In speech, Angus King explains his decision to join with Senate Democrats

November 14, 2012

Sen.-elect Angus King (I-Maine) has announced his decision to caucus with Senate Democrats. His decision, delivered in brief nuanced remarks to reporters Tuesday morning, are worth highlighting in this space.

Review the senator-elect’s comments, as delivered, below:

Today I’m announcing my decision on which party, if any, I will associate with in my work here in the U.S. Senate. Before doing so, however, I’d like to outline my thinking on this issue and set out the principles that have guided my decision.

In answering this ‘Who will you caucus with?’ question repeatedly during the campaign — and I emphasize the word ‘repeatedly’ — I established two basic criteria. That I wanted to maintain my independence as long and as thoroughly as possible while at the same time being effective in my representation of Maine.

The first option I considered is whether I could literally go it alone and not align myself with either party and operate entirely outside of the current partisan structure of the Senate. Although tempting in many ways, it has become apparent from extensive research into the Senate rules and precedence, as well as those familiar with the operations of the Senate, that this simply wouldn’t be practical, and in fact would severely compromise my ability to be effective on behalf of Maine.

The principle disadvantage of this ‘go it alone’ approach is that I would likely be largely excluded from the committee process, which is where most of the work of any legislative body takes place. Occasionally my vote would probably prove crucial and eagerly sought by both sides, but in the long run, I’d be relegated to the sidelines as the day-to-day work of the Senate was done by others.

The second question then, if I’m going to caucus, or associate myself with a caucus, is which side to choose. And the outcome of last week’s elections in some ways makes this decision relatively easy. In the situation where one party has a clear majority, and effectiveness is an important criteria, affiliating with the majority makes the most sense. The majority has more committee slots to fill, has more control over what bills get considered and more control over the Senate’s schedule.

But the question remains, what does caucusing mean – and this is a question I raised continuously in the campaign – and how does this decision affect my intention to remain as independent as possible? In order to answer this, I had substantial conversations with two independent senators currently serving in the Senate. Both of whom are affiliated with the Democratic caucus. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Both confirmed that the Democratic caucus generally and its leadership in particular, had consistently allowed them to maintain their independent positions and had never forced decisions upon them in the name of party loyalty.

Secondly, I had lengthy discussions with the Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, as well as former majority leader and my good friend George Mitchell of Maine, on this very question. I came away from these conversations reassured that my independence would be respected and that no party-line commitment would be required or expected.

And so I’ve decided to affiliate with the Democratic caucus, because doing so will allow me to take independent positions on issues as they arise, and at the same time will allow me to be an effective representative of the people of Maine.

One final word: By associating myself with one side, I am not in automatic opposition to the other. I’d like to repeat that: By associating myself with one side, I am not in automatic opposition to the other. In the situation of a Republican House, a Democratic Senate, but with substantial powers residing in the minority and a Democratic president, no one party can control the outcome of our collective deliberations. As Bill Clinton might say, it’s just arithmetic.

In fact, this situation of a divided government has only two possible outcomes: Action, based upon good faith compromise, or no action resulting from political deadlock. In my opinion, this latter – no action based upon deadlock – is simply unacceptable to the people of Maine and the people of the United States.

We must find a way to act, because many of the problems before us — the debt and deficit is probably the best example – have a time fuse. The longer we avoid acting, the worse they get. In this case, no decision is itself a decision and it is almost undoubtedly the wrong decision.

The challenges before us are too great, and the stakes are too high to allow partisan differences to keep us from finding common ground even on the most difficult issues. And I hope that in a small way, in a small way, I may be able to act as a bridge between the parties. An honest broker, to help nudge us towards solutions.

I’ve talked with more than a dozen senators of both parties in the past three days and have been impressed by their seriousness of purpose and good-faith desire to serve the country. I am truly humbled and honored to be among them and look forward to working with them in the months and years to come as we struggle to fulfill the fundamental promise of the Constitution – to form a more perfect union.

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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