Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy is turning down the powerful chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee, a surprise move in a chamber where senior senators are quick to snag the most influential positions, reports Politico. Leahy will remain chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Justice Department, federal courts and hot-button constitutional issues. Now. Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski will head Appropriations after the death of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI)
“Chairing the Judiciary Committee and maintaining my seniority on the Appropriations Committee will allow me to protect both the Constitution and Vermont,” Leahy said. It was not immediately clear if Mikulski would also retain the chairmanship of the subcommittee that oversees the Justice Department budget and has a major impact on anticrime spending. If she does not, next in line could be Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), also a senior member of Judiciary. Leahy's decision leaves him atop Judiciary at a time when gun control has been vaulted to the top of the national agenda after the massacre at a Connecticut elementary school last week. Feinstein plans to unveil legislation to reinstate the assault weapons ban.