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A spokesman for Mr. Wolf asserted, “The House bill is a good bill. Mr. Wolf has worked in good faith to resolve the differences between the the two bills but to date has not found a receptive audience in the Senate.”

The Durbin bill would impose a two-year reauthorization cycle, codify a shift in the panel’s chairmanship between commissioners appointed by Democrats and Republicans, and discourage commissioners from speaking independently on sensitive issues. It would also require USCIRF to publish its annual religious freedom report only after a similar one from the State Department and permit the U.S. ambassasdor-at-large for international religious freedom to attend commission meetings.

Mr. Durbin also wants commission members to “reach consensus on statements” issued on behalf of USCIRF by requiring a supermajority of six of the nine commissioners to approve a statement to “ensure that at least one commissioner of each political party” approves every USCIRF statement.

Speaking on the Senate floor to introduce the bill, Mr. Durbin said he was worried some USCIRF members had invoked the name of the panel for what he called “partisan” purposes.

“For example, one commissioner recently appeared on Fox News’ Hannity program, and, after identifying himself as a member of USCIRF, claimed that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had failed to take steps to combat Boko Haram in Nigeria and accused the Obama administration of having ‘no strategy’ for combating terrorism,” Mr. Durbin said in comments recorded in the Congressional Record. “(Another) commissioner testified in Congress on behalf of USCIRF and said that the Obama Administration ‘sends a message to other countries that we don’t care’ about religious freedom,” he added.

Some of the suggested reforms are troubling to James Standish, a longtime religious liberty advocate who served as USCIRF executive director from 2008 to 2009.

“The amendments contain some good, and some bad ideas. Ensuring USCIRF employees are protected against religious discrimination is, of course, a good step,” he said. “Explicitly politicizing the appointment of staff disempowers the USCRIF executive director to build and manage (their) team and is a profound step in the wrong direction.”

Unfortunate ignorance’

Mr. Durbin’s press office did not respond to requests for comment. One USCIRF backer, however, praised the comments that apparently troubled the senator.

“I do not know which commissioners made these statements, but in my view they are precisely the kinds of judgments that commissioners should be making,” said Thomas F. Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. “These kinds of judgments could and should be made with respect to any administration, including the present one.”

Mr. Farr blasted the Durbin bill as one that “betrays an unfortunate ignorance of U.S. policy. The commission, even at its most effective, is not the central institution mandated to ‘promote international religious freedom.’ That is the State Department’s job. And the senior official responsible for leading that policy does not (yet) exist, a sign of the remarkable indifference of this administration to the issue of religious persecution and its antidote, religious freedom.”

The senior official Mr. Farr referred to is the U.S. ambassasdor-at-large for international religious freedom, a post that has been vacant since September. Last month, President Obama nominated Rabbi David Saperstein to the ambassador-at-large position, a move awaiting Senate confirmation. Rabbi Saperstein is highly regarded as a religious liberty advocate, though his positions on some domestic issues have troubled conservatives.