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Inouye death creates opening for Leahy, Harkin or Mikulski

Sen. Daniel Inouye

Sen. Daniel Inouye
The death of Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, has placed two senators with strong agricultural backgrounds — Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa — in position to become chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, as other agriculture-related leadership positions may change.

Inouye died Thursday at age 88 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. A World War II hero, he was elected to the House in 1959 when Hawaii became a state, and to the Senate in 1962. He became chairman of the Appropriations committee in 2009. He was the second longest-serving senator after Sen. Robert D. Byrd, D-W.Va.

His last word, his office said, was “Aloha,” the Hawaiian word that has come to mean both “hello” and “goodbye,” and is also the nickname of the state.

As the longest-serving member of the majority party, Inouye was the president pro tempore of the Senate, which also made him third in line for the presidency after Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House John Boehner.

Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt.

Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt.
Upon Inouye’s death, Leahy became president pro tempore and third in line for the presidency. Vice President Biden administered the oath of office to Leahy today, with Sens. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., standing behind him.

Leahy is the second-ranking Democrat on the Appropriations committee and, when Inouye became ill, he took responsibility for management of the supplemental disaster appropriations bill.

But Leahy chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, a position for which he waited years, and it appears unlikely he will want to give it up. Leahy has chaired the Senate Agriculture Committee

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa
Harkin is third-ranking on Appropriations, but he chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (known as HELP). It’s less clear how Harkin would feel about shifting to Appropriations. Harkin gave up the Agriculture chairmanship to take HELP and he has taken a great interest in the HELP issues, but Appropriations has broader power.

Harkin has not said whether he will run again in 2014, and there has been speculation that he will not. When asked about his plans, a spokeswoman said today, “Sen. Harkin is focused on the pressing issues of the day: communicating to the president and to congressional leadership the importance of fighting for a balanced approach to the fiscal cliff, reforming the rules of the Senate, and furthering the agenda he's laid out as chairman of the HELP Committee and the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations subcommittee.”

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.
But if Harkin were to become chairman of Appropriations, he might be more likely to run again, an Iowa Democratic political activist who obviously wants Harkin told run again told The Hagstrom Report.

If neither Leahy nor Harkin claims the chairmanship, the next in line is Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., whose interests have been more urban.

Other changing Senate positions related to Agriculture


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Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.


With the coming retirement of Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Herb Kohl, D-Wis., that position will be open.

Harkin and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. are next in line after Kohl, but they seem unlikely to take the position. Next is Sen. Tim Johnson

Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., is next in seniority, but Johnson is chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, a prestigious and time-consuming assignment.

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., is next in line after Johnson on the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

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Heidi Heitkamp, Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.


On the Senate Agriculture Committee, the Democrats have announced that Sen.-elect Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Sen.-elect Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., currently a member of the House, will join the committee.

The two will replace Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., who are retiring.

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Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.


The ranking member position on Agriculture is also in play.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., holds the position, but southern agricultural groups are pushing Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., to use his seniority to claim the post. Cochran has been the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, but Republican seniority rules require him to give up that post.

Reflections on Sen. Inouye


Senators do not comment so soon after another senator’s death about their interest in a vacant chairmanship. Leahy, Harkin and Mikulski all issued statements after Inouye’s death.

In a floor speech, Leahy called Inouye “perhaps the best role model for public service any American could ask for. … As a representative of Hawaii he dedicated his career to establishing and solidifying a place for his state in Washington so that generations of Hawaiians to come might know the benefits of federal support for such important causes as higher education, transportation, health care, and security. His advocacy was never in vain, his people have benefitted immensely from his service.”

Harkin said, “Dan Inouye was a close, personal friend with whom I shared many happy memories. He was also a genuine hero, someone who served his country for more than seven decades – from the U.S. Army to the halls of Congress. He had a lifetime of extraordinary public service, as a Medal of Honor winner and as the second longest-serving U.S. senator. It was an honor and a privilege to serve under him on the Appropriations Committee.”

Mikulski said, "Sen. Inouye was one of the good men of the Senate who welcomed me and helped me get started when I first arrived in the Senate. I was the first Democratic woman elected in her own right. And though I was all by myself, I was never alone. Sen. Inouye helped me get on the Appropriations Committee. He was my teacher and my mentor. And he was always the essence of civility. And as each new class of senators arrived, he welcomed each and every new woman senator with the same warmth and generosity he showed me. As a man of quality, he always stood up for we women fighting for equality.”

Inouye was last elected in 2010. Under Hawaii law, Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie will appoint a replacement, choosing from a list of three candidates selected by the state Democratic Party. The appointee will serve until a special election in 2014.

The Cook Political Report said late Tuesday that the list of appointees would include Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, newly elected Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, and former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann.

The Cook Report said it is “likely” a Democrat would prevail in the special election.