Biden to chair Foreign Relations, letting Leahy lead Judiciary |

Biden to chair Foreign Relations, letting Leahy lead Judiciary


WASHINGTON (AP) – Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., will assume the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when the Democrats take control of the chamber next week, a Biden aide said Tuesday.

Biden’s decision not to return to the chairmanship of the Judiciary committee ends uncertainty regarding the chairmanships of several committees that such a change would have caused.

”At the close of business on June 5, when Sen. Jim Jeffords becomes an independent, Biden will become chairman of the Foreign Relations committee,” said Ed Hall, the Democratic staff director on that committee. ”He will also assume the chairmanship of a new subcommittee on Judiciary, the Judiciary subcommittee on crime and drugs.”

Biden’s decision was key to settling the lineup of committee chairmen when the Democrats gain control of the Senate early next month.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont will preside over the Senate Judiciary Committee, with jurisdiction over President Bush’s judicial nominees – including any Supreme Court vacancies that occur.

With Leahy chairing the Judiciary Committee, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin is assured of becoming chairman of the Agriculture committee. Sen. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland will become chairman of the Banking committee.

It had been expected that the top Democrats on each committee would simply move over and become chairmen of those panels when Jeffords, a Vermont Republican, officially became an independent, giving the Democrats a Senate majority of 50-49.

But Biden threw a wrench in that seemingly smooth machinery last week when he said he was torn between taking over Foreign Relations, where he was the top Democrat, and returning to Judiciary, saying important issues drew him to both.

In Foreign Relations, Biden said, ”it’s the national missile defense, the whole Star Wars stuff, treaties that I am worried about with this administration. And the second is this whole movement in this administration … toward unilateralism that worries me. They’re the two gigantic issues that attract my attention.

”On the Judiciary side, I’ve handled more controversial nominations than anybody ever has, and so I know what to expect and I think I could do that relatively well. The Supreme Court means a great deal to me. It’s worth losing elections over.”

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