Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Tuesday that Sen. Kamala Harris' seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee is safe, despite some earlier reports that she might lose it. The news is a boon to both Harris personally and Senate Democrats in general, many of whom consider her an effective interrogator on the powerful committee.
“Good news this morning: @SenKamalaHarris will get to keep her spot on the Judiciary Committee!” Schumer tweeted Tuesday. “As a former prosecutor, @SenKamalaHarris has strived every day for a more fair judicial system for all Americans. I’m proud that we successfully fought to keep her seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.”
Membership on congressional committees is determined by a number of factors, including the number of seats each party holds and the seniority of the senators on the committee. Republicans won two Senate seats in the midterm elections, expanding their majority from 51 seats to 53; Harris was first elected in 2016 and only joined the committee in 2018, making her the most junior member on it. As a result, various news outlets reported after the election that Harris, widely considered a potential 2020 presidential candidate, was at risk of being booted from the committee.
But apparently, that won't happen. Although Schumer didn't reveal the details of how Harris secured her spot, The Washington Post reports that he cut a deal with Republican leadership under which the size of the judiciary committee will be expanded by two, allowing each party to add one more member to it. It's unclear what Republicans gained in the deal, or who else will sit on the committee in the new session.
Two unrelated events paved the way for Harris, who was elected in 2016, to sit on the Judiciary Committee. First, Doug Jones won a surprise victory in the Alabama special election, flipping a Republican seat to Democrats; shortly thereafter, Democratic Sen. Al Franken, who sat on the Judiciary Committee, resigned under allegations of sexual misconduct.
As a result of those developments, two vacancies for Democrats on the committee opened up, and Democratic leadership simultaneously appointed Harris and Sen. Cory Booker to fill them. This made Harris the first woman of color to sit on the committee since the 1990s, when then-Sen. Carol Moseley–Braun was a member.
Since then, Harris has won kudos from Democrats for her tough questioning of Republicans who have found themselves in the Judiciary Committee's hot seat, most notably former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. In one notable exchange, Sessions acknowledged to the committee that Harris' questioning was making him "nervous."
After the midterm election results imperiled Harris' seat on the panel, the California senator told Schumer that she would like to remain on the Judiciary Committee, Harris' spokesperson told The Post. One source told Politico that keeping Harris on the committee was Schumer's "top priority," and it looks now as if he's fulfilled it.
In response to Schumer's announcement, Harris wrote on Twitter, "I am honored to continue to represent the people of California on the Senate Judiciary Committee & look forward to the critical work ahead."