Minnesota Supreme Court Rules for Franken; Coleman Concedes
yesterday, the Minnesota state Supreme Court decided 5-0 that
Al Franken (D) won the Nov. 2008 senatorial election and is
entitled to an election certificate.
He beat his opponent by 312 votes.
The court rejected the claim by Norm Coleman (R) that the lower court made major
mistakes and should be reversed. The court said: "Al Franken received the highest
number of votes legally and is entitled under Minnesota Statute 204C.40 (2008) to receive
the certificate of election."
At 3 P.M. Minnesota time, Norm Coleman (R) held a press conference and conceded defeat.
Furthermore, Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), said he would sign the election certificate.
Thus Al Franken will be sworn into the Senate when that body returns from recess next week.
However, Franken could take the oath of office from a
if he wishes. It has been done before. Franken would then be allowed to start hiring staff
so he can hit the ground running Monday.
Seats on key committees have been reserved for Franken, including the Health,
Education, Labor, and Pensions committee and the Judiciary committee.
These seats will instantly put him in the middle of the health reform discussion and
Supreme Court appointments. He would likely
also get seats on two less important commmittes, such as Indian Affairs and Aging.
The seating of Franken means the Democrats will have 58 seats as well as the support of
two independent senators who caucus with them, Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT).
In theory, they will then have the necessary 60 votes to invoke cloture and end filibusters.
The last time they had 60 seats was in the 94th Congress, from 1975 to 1977.
But as Yogi Berra once put it: "In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice,
they are not." Whereas minority leader Mitch McConnell has a more-or-less iron grip on his
caucus, majority leader Harry Reid does not. And McConnell has no weapons at his disposal
to enforce discipline whereas Reid has many, but he doesn't use them.
Hot bills coming up in the next few months including the Senate version of the Waxman-Markey
bill about global warming and health insurance reform. Democrats such as Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE)
and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), among others, are not sure votes for cloture and definitely not
sure votes for the bills themselves. So Reid may still have to try to peel off the two
senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, but the addition of Franken, who is
certain to vote with the caucus on almost everything, does make his life a bit easier.
But to get senators like Nelson or Snowe to vote for cloture, the bills may have to be
watered down somewhat. Global warming is probably the easier of the two since the senators
from Maine have never dug their heels in against the environment and Maine has no coal
mining and few, if any, coal plants that would suffer from the cap-and-trade system required
to make any progress in reducing global warming.
Health care reform is a different story. Probably all Republicans and a handful of
Democrats--including some surprising characters like Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC)--are dead set
against any bill with a public insurance option in it--Medicare for all. It will be very
hard for Reid to get 60 votes with a public option.
On the other hand, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has
that a bill without a public option
does not have the votes to pass the House because the 77-member progressive caucus
won't go for it. If the Senate won't pass a bill with a public
option and the House won't pass one without a public option, what is going to happen?
One possibility is no bill at all. But President Obama would consider that a colossal
failure and it would probably mean he would be a one-term President. One possibility
would be for him to give his notorius chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, a meat cleaver--and the
collected works of Lorena Bobbit--and tell him to go over
to Capitol Hill and not come back until he has the votes.
Another option is to use the
reconcilation process to ram the bill through, something that would enrage the Republicans
(although George Bush used it to pass his tax cuts). As long as Joe Biden is alive and
well, it would take only 50 Democratic votes to pass a health care bill via the
reconciliation process as reconciliation bills cannot be filibustered under Senate rules.
This is clearly not Obama or Reid's first choice, but it is a threat that can be
held over the head of recalcitrant Democrats and Republicans.
There is one final consideration that shouldn't be forgotten. Two Democrats, Ted Kennedy
and Robert Byrd, are extremely ill. In fact, it is conceivable either one might be in the
hospital at the time of a cloture vote, although Byrd was just discharged yesterday. In both
cases having them be wheeled into the Senate on stretchers in order to vote on a cloture
motion is well within the realm of possibility. Bedridden senators have been wheeled in to
vote in the past; it could happen again. According to Senate rules, however, wheeling in a senator
only counts if the senator is alive. If Kennedy should die, Gov. Deval Patrick (D-MA)
would call a special election to fill it.
If Byrd should die, Gov. Joe Manchin (D-WV) would replace him with
another Democrat, conceivably himself.
Thus while Franken's victory doesn't solve all the Democrats' problems (because they
are internal to the caucus), it does make things a bit easier for them.
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