Inouye Leaving Commerce Committee Chair


Washington—The Senate Commerce Committee is getting a new chairman. It's just not clear who that person will be.

Senate Commerce Committee chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) is stepping down in January to take command of the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee from 93-year-old Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.).

Byrd, who has been ailing for months, announced Friday that he would yield his gavel after numerous reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wanted Inouye, 84, to lead a panel responsible for more than $900 billion in federal spending annually.

"My Democratic colleagues and I accept [Byrd's] decision with tremendous gratitude for his outstanding tenure as chairman," Reid said in a statement Friday.

Inouye's departure means that Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) would become Commerce Committee chairman but that would require Rockefeller to give up the chairmanship of the Intelligence Committee.

Rockefeller has sponsored legislation that would regulate nearly all cable TV channels that aired excessively violent content.

If Rockefeller didn't take the top Commerce post, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) would be next in line. But Kerry is reportedly interested in becoming President-elect Barack Obama's Secretary of State.

If Kerry passes on the top Commerce position, Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (N.D.) would have seniority to be Commerce chairman.