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GOP Clears Way for Durbin to Get Subcommittee Gavel

Senate Republicans on Tuesday essentially cleared the way for Judiciary Committee Democrats to create a new subpanel for Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

Republican sources confirmed that the GOP Conference voted Tuesday afternoon to install Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.) as the ranking member on a soon-to-be-created Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law. That will allow Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to push through the change in committee structure and ensure that Durbin will not be left without a subcommittee gavel following his decision to give up his powerful Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs to recent Democratic Party convert Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.).

The full committee plans to formally create the new subcommittee at its Thursday business meeting, but Specter is set to chair his first hearing atop the Crime and Drugs subpanel on Wednesday. The subject will be health care fraud.

Following Specter’s defection from the GOP earlier this month, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) caused a stir when he indicated Specter would retain his seniority on all committees but then placed the five-term Senator at the bottom of panel rosters.

Durbin gave up his subcommittee in order undercut the media furor that erupted over Specter’s status in the Democratic caucus, but Leahy initially threw cold water on that plan when he questioned his ability to create a new panel for Durbin. He later backed off that position and said he was waiting for Republicans to agree to the committee changes.