U.S. Sen. Tom Udall

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall

While there will still be a massive drop in seniority from Pete Domenici, who served six terms in the Senate, to freshman Sen. Tom Udall, at least Udall will not have to start at the very bottom of the pecking order.

According to CQ Politics, Tom Udall will only trail his Colorado cousin Mark Udall in terms of seniority — among freshmen, at least. Seven new freshman senators were sworn in on Tuesday with a few more on the way.

The Senate refused to seat Roland Burris as Illinois junior senator Tuesday morning, and the fate of the Minnesota Senate seat still has not been resolved. Add to that Vice President-elect Joe Bidens Delaware Senate seat (which he will resign in the next few weeks) and the seats of Secretary of Interior-designate Ken Salazar and Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton, and there will be a total of 14 new senators. New Mexicos Udall will be ahead of 12 of them in seniority.

Why does seniority matter? Legislators in both houses with more seniority are generally given better committee assignments and, usually, lawmakers with more seniority are given the committee chairmanship. A recent exception is Rep. Henry Waxman, who successfully wrested control of the House Energy and Commerce Committee from his fellow Democrat, Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, late last year.

Other benefits include having a desk closer to the floor of the Senate and a better office when those higher up the seniority food chain vacate their offices. You can ask Udall about his first office in Washington, D.C., when he was first elected to Congress. Or you can ask freshman Rep. Ben Ray Lujan — he was given the same office this year.

Udalls seniority is a far cry from Pete Domenicis, however. Domenici would have been the most senior Republican in the Senate, had he decided to run for another term as senator. And had he won, of course.

In fact, Domenici would have been fourth behind just Sens. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.), Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) in terms of seniority had he retained his seat.

But it could be worse for Udall. If the Minnesota case drags on for months as expected, Al Franken will come into the Senate as 100th in seniority out of 100 senators.

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