Mr. Durbin is the next in line behind Ms. Feinstein on the committee, and Democrats generally adhere to seniority when awarding such posts.
The tension in this case partly comes from the fact that Mr. Durbin is already the No.
To some, he is trying to hoard power, potentially at the expense of his own effectiveness in either job.
First elected to the Senate in 1996, Mr. Durbin, 76, who just won his fifth term, has never served as either the chairman or the senior minority member of a full committee.
Members of both parties have viewed Mr. Durbin as an effective advocate for committee Democrats who have chafed at the way Republicans have jammed through nominees in recent years.
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