In Depth

Rockefeller’s Shift to Commerce Committee Chair Is Official

It’s finally official. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., will take over next year as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, the main Senate committee dealing with media issues.

The announcement was made today by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., after a vote by the Democratic caucus.

Sen. Rockefeller had been expected to take over the committee for weeks, but had been unwilling to confirm the selection or discuss his potential agenda for the committee until the formal announcement was made.

Democratic gains, the departure of Sen. Joe Biden to be vice president and Democrats’ decision to move Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., from chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee to “chairman emeritus” prompted the switch.

Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, will shift from his current post as chairman of the Commerce Committee to become head of the Appropriations Committee in the new Senate.

Under Senate rules, the chairman of a Senate committee has broad latitude for setting a committee’s agenda. While the committee regularly held hearings on media issues when Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chaired the committee, it held fewer hearings under subsequent chairmen, first Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and later Sen. Inouye.

Sen. Rockefeller has been more concerned with media issues than Sen. Inouye, and his appointment is expected to return the committee to its more traditional focus on media issues. Sen. Rockefeller has been especially concerned about violence on TV.

In a statement, Sen. Rockefeller said the committee’s first task would be to help the economy.

“President-elect Obama is committed to a results-based agenda, and I look forward to working with him in the Congress. We agree that the first order of business for us all is to work together to revive our economy,” Sen. Rockefeller said.

He also said he would work to see the committee gets to hear all voices.

“I approach this new chairmanship with the fundamental belief that every American deserves a voice, and in Congress we must work every day to ensure that each generation lives better than those who came before. The decisions we make in the coming years will affect our young people for decades—our agenda must be aggressive and our work substantial. These are challenging times and together with my colleagues, I look forward to addressing these critical issues head-on—we don’t have a moment to lose.”

(1:20 p.m.: Updated with statement from Sen. Rockefeller)