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Grassley Lobbies to Get Judiciary in 2011

Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (Iowa) has hatched a plan to ensure he can serve as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee in two years after his term on Finance expires.

The plan involves persuading his GOP colleagues to allow Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to act as the temporary ranking member of the Judiciary Committee for the rest of this Congress. Then, Grassley would swap jobs with Hatch, who is next in line for the ranking member job on Finance.

But the proposal — which several Republicans said Grassley is actively shopping to his colleagues — would mean that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) would get frozen out of the ranking slots on both panels. Because he served as the Judiciary panel’s top Republican previously, Hatch is now barred under Conference term limits from taking over as ranking member for Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), who gave up the job when he bolted to the Democratic Party earlier this week.

Hatch would need a waiver from the Conference to execute Grassley’s plan.

Currently, Grassley is next in line to become the ranking member on Judiciary, and he could in theory take the top GOP job on the committee and step down from his ranking member position on Finance.

But Grassley is facing a re-election next year and is loath to give up his slot on the high-profile Finance Committee, Republicans familiar with his position said.

According to Republicans, Grassley is hoping to talk with Sessions — who is currently out of Washington because of a personal family matter — before they formally put the idea before their Conference. But in the interim, Hatch and Grassley have been floating the idea to their colleagues, Republicans said.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear how Specter’s party switch will affect the make up of the Judiciary and Appropriations committees. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has promised Specter that he can keep his slots on both panels, but doing so would disrupt the party ratios authorized under the chamber’s organizing resolution.

According to several Republicans, the GOP would support simply adding an additional Republican seat to each committee, bringing the ratios back into compliance. However, while Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) were expected to discuss the issue Thursday morning, no decision had been made by late in the day.

Another outstanding issue that remains to be resolved is what to do with Specter’s 34 Judiciary Committee staffers. A handful of Specter’s campaign workers have quit in the wake of his party switch, but his Senate staff has so far stayed put.

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