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Feinstein Could Push Gun Control From Atop Judiciary Panel

With Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., suddenly in line to become chairman of the Appropriations Committee, California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein could decide to claim the gavel on the Judiciary panel.

The Judiciary move is one of several potential chairmanships that could shift after Monday’s death of Hawaii Democratic Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, who was Appropriations chairman.

Feinstein, who is chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, has focused much of her legislative attention in recent years on national security policy on both panels. But in the wake of Friday’s grade school massacre in Newtown, Conn., she has been in the news for her renewed push for a prohibition on assault weapons and restrictions on high-capacity clips.

Despite being a moderate on national security policy, Feinstein is in line with the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party when it comes to gun control. That’s in part because Feinstein first assumed the post of San Francisco mayor after the 1978 murders of Mayor George Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk by a gunman.

“On the first day of the new Congress, I intend to introduce a bill stopping the sale, transfer, importation and manufacturing of assault weapons as well as large ammunition magazines, strips and drums that hold more than 10 rounds,” Feinstein said in a statement earlier Monday, adding that she was seeking more support for the updated bill.

Feinstein has enjoyed a longtime working relationship with Judiciary ranking member Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, on numerous issues, including counternarcotics legislation and other crime-related issues. Feinstein and Grassley helm the Senate’s Caucus on International Narcotics Control.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., is the next member in seniority at the Intelligence panel without another gavel for the 113th Congress. While ahead of her in line at Intelligence, Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden has been widely expected to take over as chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Wyden, however, has differed from Feinstein and others on a number of recent civil liberties issues, making it at least a possibility that he could seek to change course and have a greater effect on intelligence-gathering activity.

“Sometimes you have to stand alone. And often, when you stand alone on day one, as the debate evolves, you see how things — as you make your case — in effect come around your way, both in terms of policy and politics,” Wyden said in an interview with CQ Roll Call last month, discussing his differences with Feinstein.

Wyden has been trying to derail legislation that Feinstein has been working on: a reauthorization of expiring intelligence-gathering provisions (S 3276) and the annual intelligence authorization bill. She has been seeking to get both items through before the end of the year. Feinstein worked with Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., ranking member on Intelligence, to restore the practice of passing annual authorizations.

Tim Starks contributed to this report.

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