Senator Jim DeMint, who is in line to take over the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. via Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights.
A year ago, a Republican takeover of the US Senate seemed inevitable. Democrats held only a four-member advantage, and would have to defend twenty-three seats—where Republicans only had to defend ten, many of them in completely safe states like Mississippi, Utah, Texas and Wyoming.
Now, things are looking pretty dismal for the GOP, thanks in part to poor recruiting, and the epic self-induced flame-outs of Representative Todd Akin in Missouri and possibly Richard Mourdock in Indiana. Nate Silver gives the Democrats an 87.6 percent chance of retaining control of the Senate.
But that’s far from a certainty—especially with the massive wave of eleventh-hour money flowing into many Senate races. (Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS just bought $8 million in ads, with more sure to come.)
A Republican takeover in the upper body would dramatically affect the country’s course over the next two, or possibly four, years. It would dictate what legislation and what nominees moved out of the Senate—or don’t.
Committees are the key to how the Senate operates, as they must draft bills or send presidential nominees out to the whole Senate. Imagine, then, that Republicans control the committees and President Obama is re-elected—the administration would have an awful hard time getting any Supreme Court nominee with anything resembling a liberal résumé out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. That’s not to mention all of the other cabinet appointees Obama would need to make (replacing Hillary Clinton at the State Department, for example). If you think the GOP was good at bottling up nominations when they were in the minority, just wait.
The résumé of the committee chairmen is particularly important—their ideological rigidity can greatly affect the details of legislation passed out by the committee, or the depth of intransigence to a particular nominee. So it’s useful to look at the bosses who would be running some key Senate committees should the GOP take over. In every case, there’s a dramatic difference between the current chair and the prospective Republican chair. In some cases, the ideological drop-off is absolutely terrifying.
Committee on Armed Services. This is one of the most influential committees in the Senate. It has legislative oversight of the entire US military, including the Department of Defense and a wide range of the nation’s nuclear activities. It is currently chaired by Senator Carl Levin, who voted against the Iraq War in 2002 and helped push through the “don’t ask, don’t tell” legislation in 2010. (Unfortunately, Levin also helped push through the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that included the indefinite detention provisions—which Levin defended.) Should the GOP take over, Senator John McCain would chair the committee—and he is on every measure much more hawkish than Levin.