Bipartisan Senate headaches loom over vacant seats

Posted on January 2, 2009



There are two Senate seats whose occupants are in question, and issues over both look to provide migraines for leaders of both political parties.

First, consider the Minnesota Senate recount battle. Today, Al Franken leads Norm Coleman by 49 votes after trailing by over 700 in the general election count. Should Franken find himself on top, he will face a potential filibuster by Senate Republicans over his seating. Senator John Cornyn, newly elected chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee,  says the Republicans won’t seat Franken without a certificate of election, which won’t be issued as long as the election is being litigated.

I might agree with the Republicans in principle, but a filibuster is the wrong way to go here. It will ultimately accomplish nothing, as the Minnesota Senate race is either going to be decided by the Canvassing Board or in the courts. Accepting an adverse result in either case will be a bitter pill to swallow, but opposing Franken will only end up looking like a temper tantrum by sore losers. Cornyn, for his part, has said “the people of Minnesota and the courts in Minnesota should make the decision about who won the Minnesota Senate election, and not political leaders in Washington, D.C.” Besides, even if Franken should somehow win, I have little doubt his temper and juvenile humor will surface at some point, and he’ll be an embarassment for stately Senate Democrats.

And then there’s the tussle over the Illinois seat vacated by Barack Obama. Indicted Governor Rod Blagojevich made waves this week by making the  surprise appointment of Roland Burris after being warned by Obama and Senate Democrats that they won’t accept any choice he makes. Now, according to aides, they have a plan if Burris shows up at Washington: physically deny him access to the Senate floor. First off, until he is removed from office, Blagojevich is still legally able to make an appointment to the seat. Turning Burris away at the door of the Senate might make for great TV, but they’ll also be turning away the nation’s only black Senator, potentially causing problems among the black community. But mostly, it’ll just come across as juvenile and petty.

In both cases, the junior Senators from Minnesota and Illinois who take the floor next week may not end up being the permanent occupant of the seat. It’s probably prudent to simply accept them as provisional replacements and let the processes in both states work themselves out. That’s what I would do, but somehow I think we might see one more wrinkle or two in these bizarre battles for legislative supremacy.

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