GOP Dead Set Against 59th Dem
By: Manu Raju
February 14, 2009 05:57 PM EST
Having just seen what President Barack Obama can do with 58 Democrats in the Senate, Republicans are more determined than ever to keep him from getting a 59th.
Especially if the 59th is Al Franken.
Franken, the former comedian, leads Republican Norm Coleman by 225 votes in a “Groundhog Day” of an election that dawned more than three months ago and shows no signs of ending soon.
Which is exactly how Senate Republicans want it. The National Republican Senatorial Committee held a ritzy fundraiser for Coleman in Washington this week, helping him raise the money he needs to keep his legal challenges alive through a trial and then a lengthy legal process if he loses.
How long should Coleman hold out?
“However long it takes,” says Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who chairs the NRSC.
“I encourage him to see it through the end,” Cornyn said Thursday. “He feels like he owes it to the voters of Minnesota and his colleagues here. He realizes how important retaining that seat is to us.”
The Democrats know how important the seat is — and they accuse the GOP of prolonging Coleman’s legal fight just to keep it empty.
“It’s clear that national Republicans see the vacancy in Minnesota as one of the few arrows in their quiver to obstruct Democrats in the Senate from getting real change passed,” said Eric Schultz, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
With 58 Democrats in the Senate — technically 56, plus Independents Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders — Obama was able to push through a $787 billion economic recovery plan by picking up just three Republican votes: Sens. Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe and Arlen Specter. With Ted Kennedy unable to vote because of his health issues, he needed all three of them.
If Franken becomes the 59th senator to caucus with the Democrats, the GOP knows that Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will be able to railroad legislation through the Senate by picking off a single Republican moderate.
So while Coleman’s gone — having neither won nor lost yet, he can’t return to his old seat and has been booted from his Capitol Hill office — his friends in the party are doing everything they can to keep him in the game. At this week’s NRSC fundraiser, PAC hosts paid $5,000 each; individual hosts had to pony up $2,300 apiece, and attendees paid between $500 and $1,000 to attend.
Republicans turned out in force. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has already maxed out to Coleman’s effort, giving $10,000 from his PAC, including $5,000 at the fundraiser – and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has given the maximum as well, according to a source familiar with the fundraiser.
Other Republican senators who contributed the $10,000 maximum limit include Mike Crapo of Idaho, Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the third-highest ranking Republican in the Senate. Republican Sens. James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Charles Grassley of Iowa each contributed $5,000, while Collins chipped in another $2,000 and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska donated $1,000, the person said.
Cornyn said Coleman said Coleman has raised $5 million since election day – and that even that isn’t enough.
Republicans insist that they’re simply helping a colleague fight to make sure that all the votes are counted.
Franken has been taking steps — mocked by the GOP — to make it look like his victory is in hand. He discussed potential committee assignments with Reid and repeatedly made the rounds in Washington, where he was this week for policy briefings and meetings with current and former Senate staffers.
Reid has said definitively that Coleman will “never, ever” serve in the Senate again. But he said earlier this week that he will wait until the trial ends to decide whether the Senate should use its constitutional authority to seat Franken.
That’s probably a moot point. The GOP has promised to mount a filibuster — which would require 60 votes to overcome — if Democrats attempt to seat Franken before Coleman exhausts his legal remedies.
Democrat Amy Klobuchar also is eager for it to end. Being the lone Minnesota has been a “challenge,” she told Politico, saying her home-state office has been flooded with phone calls and said her staff has seen its casework double in size.
“Every day I say it will be resolved in a month — then the day changes and I say the same thing,” Klobuchar said.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Rules and Administration Committee that would oversee a dispute in the Minnesota Senate race, expressed confidence that Franken would win the case within a month.
“I would doubt anything is going to change,” Schumer said. “I’d say the odds are very, very, very high that Franken is the winner.”
Schumer wouldn’t say what Democrats would do if Coleman loses then appeals, saying “he’s been appealing and appealing and appealing.”