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Sen. Orrin Hatch needs a committee, and not just any committee — one where he can be a leader, have a budget, and hire a staff. So far, that’s proving difficult to find. The Utah Republican, who’s been in the Senate longer than all but two other GOP members — Ted Stevens of Alaska and Pete Domenici of New Mexico — has been a member of the Judiciary Committee since he took office in 1977, and he chaired the panel for seven years. But with the Democrats set to take control next month, Hatch is no longer the ranking member anywhere — not on Finance, where he has served for 13 years; not on Health, Education and Labor; and not on Judiciary, where Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) is set to assume the top minority slot. Worse, it’s all but certain that Hatch’s anointed subcommittee on intellectual property will disappear to be subsumed into the full Judiciary Committee, where it will theoretically receive the full attention of incoming Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). So whither Hatch? He could take over the judiciary panel’s Antitrust Subcommittee, vacated by defeated Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), but Specter may claim that, too. Or perhaps Pat Roberts of Kansas would like to be the ranking member of Agriculture, allowing Hatch to slide into the top GOP position on Intelligence. No one knows yet, says a former Hatch staffer, who says he’s heard “firm and final decisions by people who would know” that reach totally opposite conclusions.
T.R. Goldman can be contacted at [email protected].

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