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Leahy And Sanders Lose Clout With GOP Takeover Of Senate

Angela Evancie
VPR File
Senators Patrick Leahy, left, and Bernie Sanders will lose chairman spots on the Senate Judiciary and Veterans Affairs committees, respectively.

Based on Tuesday’s election results, the Republicans will have a clear majority when the new Congressional session convenes in January. The change will have a direct impact on Democrat Patrick Leahy and Independent Bernie Sanders because both senators will lose their chairmanships of several key committees.

Retired Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis says Leahy will no longer be able to set the agenda for the Senate Judiciary committee.

“It means that Leahy will not be in a position  to be in charge of shepherding President Obama’s judicial nominees through the Senate,” said Davis. “It means on immigration reform, which is something that the Judiciary committee is responsible for, Leahy will be in the minority and will have to respond to Republican proposals rather than use his own as the basis for committee discussion.”

Under Leahy’s leadership the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill last year. It called for a long term path to citizenship for undocumented workers, and it included efforts to secure the border with Mexico. The bill was never considered in the House.

"The President will have a lot less flexibility on who he can name who he can nominate to the Supreme Court because he still has to get 51 votes," Senator Patrick Leahy who will lose his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary committee in January.

Leahy is concerned that many of the newly elected Republican senators won’t support this approach.

“It would certainly be very difficult to get a bill that’s as well balanced as the one we passed last year in the Senate Judiciary committee,” said Leahy. “That’s unfortunate, it’s unfortunate for the United States because we do need an updated immigration policy.”

Leahy says the change of leadership in the Senate will also play a major role if there’s a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The President will have a lot less flexibility on who he can name, who he can nominate to the Supreme Court, because he still has to get 51 votes,” said Leahy.

Sanders will lose his chairmanship of the Senate Veterans Affairs committee. It’s a panel that has recently reviewed problems with the Veteran's Affairs  health care system.

Sanders thinks voters across the country were sending a clear message when they supported so many Republication Senate candidates.

“What yesterday was about is the American people standing up, at least those who voted - and it was a pretty low voter turnout - saying you know we’re angry, we are frustrated, we are hurting, and we’re not seeing folks in Washington, the President or the Democratic leadership standing up for us so we’ve got to throw these guys out and see what the Republicans can do,” said Sanders.

Next week, Congress will hold a lame duck session, and it will offer Senate Democrats a last chance to pass legislation before the Republicans take over in January.

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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