Tiff over? Democrats present Specter with peace offering

Might Senator Specter have a sub-committee to chair? Perhaps. Senator Dick Durbin offered to give him the crime and drugs subcommittee today. That's before Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy entered the picture. Leahy wasn't pleased about it, but said he'll review it.

The spat between Sen. Arlen Specter and his new Democratic colleagues ended Thursday with a gavel.

Thirty-nine hours after stripping the Senate’s latest party switcher of the 29 years' seniority he had expected to keep, Democratic leaders came up with a sweetener – a subcommittee for Senator Specter to chair.

True, on his other committee assignments, the Pennsylvania senator may yet have to suffer the indignity of sitting at the end of the committee table and waiting until last to ask questions. But at least on a panel of the Senate Judiciary Committee that he once famously chaired, he’ll still have the first and last word.

Here’s the deal: Majority whip Richard Durbin offered to give up his chairmanship of the crime and drugs subcommittee to Specter. After the dispute over Specter's lost seniority risked turning toxic, majority leader Harry Reid took him up on it.

“[Senator Durbin] did it because he’s a generous person and it’s the right thing to do,” Senator Reid said at a briefing on Thursday.

If all goes according to the new plan, the Judiciary Committee will revive the Human Rights and the Law subcommittee that Durbin once chaired, so the Illinois senator would still have a chairmanship.

“I want Senator Specter to feel welcome in this caucus,” Durbin said at a briefing Thursday. “I’ve gone to every subcommittee member on the Democratic side below me in seniority ... and each one of them has said they’re fine with this.”

But he added that even if he doesn't get the new chairmanship, “it won’t change my offer [to Specter].”

In a statement Thursday, Specter said he was pleased to accept the offer. “Among other things, I look forward to tackling issues of jail sentences for white collar crime like Medicare and Medicaid fraud, the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparities, tough sentencing for career criminals and realistic rehabilitation for inmates who will be returning to society,” he said.

So is the tiff over? Not quite yet. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he needs to consult with other senators before signing off on the deal.

“I value the contributions of all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, including the longstanding service of Senator Specter,” he said in a statement Thursday.

“I am consulting with Senator [Jeff] Sessions, our Republican Ranking Member, in light of our recently revised Committee membership to consider any necessary adjustments to Judiciary Committee subcommittees. I hope to have a decision by early next week,” he added.

Stay tuned.

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