Larry Craig

Republicans weighing Craig's open seats

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Larry Craig's expected exit from the Senate — assuming he really does resign Sept. 30 — has set off behind-the-scenes maneuvering to see which Senate Republicans will be the indirect beneficiaries of the Idaho Republican's demise.

The most plum assignment Craig would leave behind is a seat on the Appropriations Committee, which doles out more than $900 billion a year in federal spending. Senators were mum about the top candidates for the slot, which will be filled by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

If McConnell uses seniority as his measuring stick, the classes of 1996 and 1998 are in line for the Appropriations slot. Senators are allowed to hold only one "Super A" committee post, so the most senior members already are on premier panels and won't give up those spots to become junior members on Appropriations. Attention will focus on Susan Collins of Maine and Mike Enzi of Wyoming.

Even if Craig does return, GOP leaders have already stripped him of his posts as the top Republican on one committee and two subcommittees, so some shuffling there is in order. At the Veterans' Affairs Committee, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is in line to become the ranking Republican. On the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the top Republican post on a subcommittee is likely to fall to such junior senators as Jim DeMint of South Carolina or Bob Corker of Tennessee.

One subcommittee leadership post of Craig's might not be so sought-after: top Republican on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the interior. The past three top Republicans on that panel have taken a spill. Before Craig, the top Republican on the panel (and the chairman) was Conrad Burns of Montana, who lost his re-election bid last fall. Burns was preceded by Slade Gorton of Washington, who lost his 2000 reelection race.

Prime suspects to replace Craig there are Sam Brownback of Kansas, Wayne Allard of Colorado or Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.