Senate Republicans denied newly elected Sen. Eric Schmitt the waiver he was seeking to serve on the Judiciary Committee. The Missouri Republican now needs to make new committee assignment requests, which is expected to delay the formal organization of Senate committees into next week.
Senate Republican Conference precedent prohibits senators from the same state from serving on a committee together unless one gets a waiver. Schmitt, a lawyer who served as state attorney general before his election to Congress, sought the waiver because fellow Missouri Republican Josh Hawley already serves on Judiciary.
Hawley said he would have been happy to have Schmitt serve on the panel with him but the waiver was denied because there are no open seats on Judiciary.
“He would be a tremendous asset to that committee — and that’s not a comment on anybody else on the committee at all,” Hawley said. “The real problem here is we’re losing seats. I mean, we’re not a majority. And that’s our own fault.”
GOP lost one seat
Republicans lost a Senate seat in November, putting Democrats in the majority with a 51-49 split. Democrats led the previous 50-50 Senate last Congress because their party controls the White House, but they had a power-sharing agreement with Republicans that provided for an equal split on committees.
Now that equal split will go away, with the expected outcome on most committee ratio decisions to be that Republicans lose a seat. That is going to be the case on Judiciary, where Republicans say they are expected to have 10 seats to Democrats’ 11.
Since Nebraska Republican Ben Sasse resigned only a few days into the new Congress to take a job leading the University of Florida, Republicans don’t have to kick any current members off the committee because his seat will be the one they lose.
Had he gotten the waiver, Schmitt would have needed another Republican to step aside, since there was little appetite to remove a current member. No one has volunteered to step down from Judiciary at this time.
“Unless some deal gets brokered, I mean, which isn’t outside the realm of possibility,” Senate Republican Whip John Thune of South Dakota said when asked if Schmitt will not get a seat on Judiciary. “But I think that the conference is on record, supporting the precedent that’s been used in the past in a situation like this.”
Senate Republicans determine their committee assignments by having each senator submit requests and ranking their preferences. Seniority as well as those rankings are factored into the final decisions.
With Schmitt denied the waiver, he now has to submit a new request with other panels he would like to join, according to Thune.
That will further delay Republicans from finalizing committee assignments, which the full conference will need to vote on before an organizing resolution including the assignments goes to the floor.
“It’s kind of a domino effect,” Thune said. “And unfortunately, I don’t think we’re going to be able to get it wrapped up — it sounds like — like this week.”
Ricketts has made choices
Republicans already had a late start organizing because they were waiting on Sasse’s replacement. Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen appointed his predecessor, Pete Ricketts, to fill the open Senate seat on Jan. 12 and Ricketts was sworn in Monday. Thune said Ricketts has submitted his committee assignment requests so is no longer a factor in the delay.
Republican Conference Chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming said he didn’t expect committee assignments to be ready for a vote until next week.
“Things will now fall in line from the standpoint of who’s on what committees so that people can be informed,” he said. “And then we’ll have to do a formal conference to confirm that.”
Democrats say they’re just waiting on Republicans to move their own organizing resolution.
Schmitt confirmed to reporters he did not get the Judiciary waiver but did not tip his hand about other committees he would want to join.
“I’m looking forward to serving on all those committees I get selected for,” he said.
Hawley said he could see Schmitt getting a Judiciary seat in the future if Republicans were to win more Senate seats and thus improve their ratio on committees.
“It all depends on what people rank, but if he puts it first or second, I would think so — yeah, if we pick up a seat or something,” he said.
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