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Specter Presses Ahead in Getting Subcommittee Gavel

After a rocky announcement Thursday, Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) appears clear to take over a powerful Senate Judiciary subcommittee from Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

Though Durbin revealed Thursday morning his plan to hand over the Crime and Drugs Subcommittee gavel to the new Democratic convert, Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) cast doubt on that by remarking angrily to reporters that “nothing’s been worked out yet.—

But in a statement Thursday afternoon, Specter formally accepted the post from Durbin, and credited both the Majority Whip and Leahy for giving him the opportunity to assume the chairmanship.

“I am pleased to serve as Chairman of the Crime and Drugs Subcommittee and I thank my colleagues, Assistant Majority Leader Durbin and Judiciary Chairman Leahy and Majority Leader Reid in particular, for the opportunity,— Specter said. “My commitment to the issues of criminal justice, my lengthy experience on the Judiciary Committee, and my background as District Attorney of Philadelphia make me prepared for the hard work ahead on this active subcommittee.—

Durbin still hopes that Leahy will ultimately reconstitute the Human Rights and the Law subcommittee, which he chaired in the 110th Congress. That panel was disbanded this year when Durbin took over Crime and Drugs.

However, Leahy has said he is still working out the details of creating a new subcommittee for Durbin. Funding appears to be an issue, but Leahy said he hopes that question and other organizational issues will be resolved early next week.

Specter’s new gavel comes after Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) moved to demote him to junior status on his committees. Reid made the decision after Senate Democrats balked at the idea that Specter — who announced his defection to the Democratic ranks last week —would keep the same seniority he had as a Republican.

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