Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) signaled he intends to stay in the running for top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee after Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) expressed interest in the position.
The jockeying comes one day after Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced she plans to step down as top Democrat in the new Congress. Feinstein recently drew criticism from progressives for her handling of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation.
“In the wake of Ranking Member Feinstein’s announcement, I look forward to the question of succession on the Senate Judiciary Committee being decided by the caucus,” Whitehouse said in a statement on Tuesday. “I will abide by the caucus’s decision.”
Durbin has more seniority on the committee but already serves as caucus whip and top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee. The question for the Senate Democratic caucus is whether it would allow one senator to hold so many important positions simultaneously.
The pushback against Durbin saying he’d want the top Democratic spot is “less ideological” and more about whether he could really do both the Judiciary and the leadership jobs, a former Senate Democratic aide, said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the caucus essentially has Durbin choose,” the former aide said.
Whitehouse, a former U.S. attorney, has won fans among progressives for his aggressive focus on the role of dark money in judicial confirmations.
“Sheldon Whitehouse, who would be next in line for the top spot on Senate Judiciary after Dick Durbin, has spent years trying to bring attention to the importance of the courts, and published reports exposing the partisan overreach and corporate bias of the Roberts Court,” Brian Fallon, head of the liberal advocacy group Demand Justice, wrote in a tweet on Monday.
Durbin is also well regarded on the left for his work on civil rights and immigration.
“Great news,” Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, tweeted after Durbin announced that he would seek the committee’s top Democratic spot. “Senator Durbin has long been a champion for civil and human rights. We need his leadership on the Senate Judiciary Committee,” Gupta said.