Musical Chairs (and Ranking Members)

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With the exit of ranking member Bill Nelson (R-Fla.) and chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) having reached his term limit, there will be big changes in the leadership of the powerful Senate Energy & Commerce Committee.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) 

The committee oversees communications issues in tandem with the Judiciary Commmittee.

According to those tapped into the Hill position-jostling, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), currently the chairman of the Communications Subcommittee, heads the line of succession to Thune atop the full committee when the new Congress convenes in January.

Thune might even trade places, taking over as chair of the Communications Subcommittee, though historically the real communications action happens at the committee level and he might prefer transportation, as he is former State Railroad Director in his native South Dakota.

Nelson, who lost a nail-biting, recount-inducing election to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, is expected to be succeeded by Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) as ranking member of the full committee. If so, that could make it tougher than it already is to come to some kind of agreement on legislation to clarify network neutrality rules if that does not mean restoring the telecom service definition of ISPs. That’s because Cantwell has been a hard-liner on Title II, according to one veteran lobbyist.

If Cantwell doesn’t want it — she has been ranking member on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee and may prefer that — the post could go to Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who might be more willing to find a compromise solution to net neutrality, said the lobbyist, an assessment shared by a Democratic Hill staffer.

Klobuchar has been active on communications issues and is in the conversation for even higher — make that “highest” — office down the line.