Senate Democrats voted by secret ballot Thursday to reject a proposal sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) to bar senior members from the Democratic leadership from also chairing A-list committees — a reform aimed squarely at top members of Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) leadership team.
The proposal would have required three Democratic chairs — Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (Ill.), Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and Rules Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) — to pick between their gavels or their senior leadership positions.
Durbin also serves as the Senate Democratic whip, while Stabenow chairs the Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Committee and Klobuchar heads the Senate Democratic Steering Committee.
Under current caucus rules, they can hold senior leadership positions and committee chairmanships simultaneously.
But some Democrats want power to be shared more broadly, though they have kept their complaints about not having more input into major political and policy decisions behind closed doors.
Whitehouse declined to comment in detail about his proposed reform, telling The Hill this week: “Caucus stuff stays in caucus.”
Schumer declined to take a public position on the proposal when asked about it Tuesday.
“All I’ll say is we had a robust discussion and there will be a vote on Thursday,” he said.
Whitehouse’s proposal is an expanded version of a reform he pushed two years ago, before Democrats took control of the Senate majority.
Two years ago, he called for preventing the Democratic whip from also chairing a full committee.
If enacted it could have paved the way for Whitehouse taking over as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, had Durbin decided to keep his whip’s office.
The Senate at the time instead adopted a proposal sponsored by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) to let the Democratic whip hold one chairmanship at a time.
That reform prevented Durbin from also chairing the powerful defense appropriations subcommittee in the 117th Congress.