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Leahy And Sanders Could Lose Key Positions If GOP Takes Over The Senate

Angela Evancie
Sen. Patrick Leahy, pictured here at a press conference in St. Albans on Oct. 10, stands to lose his chairmanship of the Judiciary committee if Republicans take over the Senate.

Although Vermont doesn’t have a U.S. Senate race this year, the political influence of the state’s two senators could be significantly reduced if the Republicans gain a majority in the Senate.

Right now the Democrats enjoy a 10-vote majority in the U.S. Senate. There are 53 Democrats, and two Independents (including Bernie Sanders) who caucus with the Democrats, and there are 45 GOP members.

It’s believed that there are 11 Senate seats in play around the country this year and the Republicans would need a net gain of six seats to regain control of the Senate.

"This would be quite a loss of prestige for the state." - UVM Political Science professor Garrison Nelson

If this happens, Vermont’s two senators could lose some powerful positions. Currently, Sen. Patrick Leahy is the chairman of the Judiciary committee and he’s a key member of the Appropriations committee. Sen. Bernie Sanders is the chairman of the Veterans Affairs committee.

UVM political science professor Garrison Nelson says Leahy and Sanders have a lot at stake on Election Day.

“It would indicate a decline in prestige and certainly Senator Patrick Leahy would no longer be Senate President Pro Tem and in the presidential line of succession,” said Nelson. “So yes, this would be quite a loss of prestige for the state.”

Nelson believes that House Republicans will increase their majority this year. If they’re successful, he expects the GOP will try to impeach President Obama, particularly if Leahy is no longer the head of the Senate Judiciary committee.

“If the Senate’s controlled by the Republicans they will hold a trial much as they did in 1999 against Bill Clinton,” said Nelson. “And we saw two months of wasted time knowing they didn’t have the votes but nevertheless they sought to embarrass Clinton and delegitimize him.”

Former Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis says if the Republicans take control of the Senate, Leahy will lose his ability to set the agenda of the Judiciary committee and that includes the review of federal court nominees.

“We saw for example earlier this year Leahy convened a hearing about Citizens United and a possible constitutional amendment to overturn that Supreme Court decision,” said Davis. “If he loses the chair he loses the ability to set the agenda on issues like that.”

Davis says Sanders also has a lot at stake if the Democrats lose control of the Senate because he would no longer be the chairman of the Veterans Affairs committee.

“He has worked closely with the Veterans Administration which obviously has been going through a lot of change in the last couple of years,” said Davis. “He’s a strong supporter of the Veterans health program. He’s also from his point of view as chair of the Veterans committee tried to get some additional funding for veterans programs in Vermont both outpatient programs as well as the VA Hospital in White River Junction.”

In two of the Senate’s 11 battleground states, independent candidates have strong support. This raises the possibility that the Senate could have four independent members in January, and these senators could play a key role in determining which party controls the Senate for the next two years.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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