Democrats are hinting it will take days, if not weeks, to seat the next senator from Massachusetts, but Sen. Teddy Kennedy and Rep. Nikki Tsongas, both Bay State Democrats, were sworn in within days of winning their special elections.
Timing is important because the Democratic party stands to lose a critical vote on health care should Republican Scott Brown pull of an upset against Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley in Tuesday’s race to fill Mr. Kennedy’s vacated seat.
If Mr. Brown wins it would likely kill the Democrats health care bill, as he has pledged to be the 41st vote needed to block it. So, delaying his official swearing-in would likely be part of the Democrats Hail Mary strategy to pass health care reform.
One leading progressive has called it “hurry up and stall.”
Rep. Anthony Weiner, New York Democrat, explained the plan thusly. “We’re going to have to finish this bill and then stall the swearing-in as long as possible,” Mr. Weiner was quoted saying in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday. “That’s our strategy, a hurry-up-and-stall strategy.”
Some of the groundwork has already been laid by the Democratic establishment who have given reporters different reasons why seating Republican Brown would take longer than Massachusetts Democrats Kennedy and Tsonges.
The Massachusetts Attorney General William F. Gavin, a Democrat, has said it would take at least 10 days to certify a new senator because it would take that long to count absentee ballots.
Aides to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, have suggested Mr. Brown will also have to wait until Vice President Joe Biden is “available” to swear him in although the law also permits other Senate officials, like the Secretary of Senate, to perform swearing-in duties.
It didn’t take nearly as long in 1962 or 2007 when two other Massachusetts Democrats won special elections.
Mr. Kennedy was seated a day after winning his special election, on Nov. 7, 1962, to fill his brother John F. Kennedy’s seat.
In fact, Mr. Kennedy’s certification papers weren’t even ready when he became the Senate’s youngest member. The archived certificate is dated Nov. 21, 1962 and the Senate didn’t mark it “received” until Nov. 28.
Rep. Tsongas also benefited from a swift seating process.
She won her Oct. 16, 2007 special election for former Rep. Marty Meehan’s seat and was sworn in two days later.