WASHINGTON – Senior Democrats in Washington and Massachusetts have thrown their support behind a proposal to appoint a temporary replacement to fill the seat of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., whose death Tuesday has left the leading cause of his political life – national health insurance – with one less vote of support.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Thursday publicly endorsed the plan to change the state’s law to allow an interim appointment before a special election is held in January, when the winner will serve out the remaining three years of Kennedy’s term.
Reid joined Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the party’s 2004 presidential nominee and close Kennedy ally, Massachusetts Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick and other top legislative leaders, who all want to assure that sometime this fall Massachusetts has two senators. This would put Kennedy’s immediate successor in place by the time Reid hopes to hold a Senate vote on health-care legislation.
Under current state law, Kennedy’s seat remains vacant until a special election is held between 145 and 160 days after his death, likely some time in January. That would leave President Barack Obama with one less vote during the debate over health-care reform as well as other key issues, one vote shy of the 60 Democrats need to shut down Republican filibusters if the caucus holds together.
In his last public action, Kennedy sent a letter last week to Patrick asking that state law be changed so the governor could name a successor to hold the job until the special election. Democrats initially seemed cool to the proposal, and Republicans complained that it smacked of hypocrisy, given that the appointment power was taken away in 2004 when the GOP held the governor’s office and Kerry was battling for the presidency.
But the tide has shifted since Kennedy’s death. Patrick told reporters in Boston on Wednesday that changing the law seemed like “a reasonable idea” and that he would sign a bill if it reached his desk.