WASHINGTON — California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is in line to become the first female chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The opening was created Friday amid a chairmanship shuffle sparked by the announcement that Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia was stepping down as head of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
A number of gavels will change hands as a result, sending the current Intelligence Committee chairman, Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., to the Commerce Committee, and opening up the powerful Intelligence Committee post for Feinstein, according to a former Hill aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deliberations were ongoing.
Feinstein, who currently chairs the low-profile Senate Rules Committee, has served on the Intelligence Committee for eight years and played a key role in crafting some important legislation including the creation of the post of director of national intelligence following the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
The committee will likely pursue key new initiatives with Democrat Barack Obama as president. Gaining the plum chairmanship could decrease the possibility of Feinstein, a Democrat, running for California governor in 2010, something she’s been considering.
Feinstein has said she wouldn’t decide on that until next year and her spokesman, Gil Duran, said that hasn’t changed.
Feinstein as chair of Intelligence would put both of California’s senators in charge of high-profile committees on Capitol Hill. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee.
Senators will hold chairmanship elections later this month, when Feinstein’s new post is expected to be formally approved.