By Paul Kane and Brady Dennis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 29, 2010; A09
The seemingly irreplaceable Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) will be succeeded by an appointed senator until November 2012, when the state's voters will select a permanent replacement to the man who has been their leading voice in Washington since the Eisenhower administration.
This means that Byrd's death on Monday will have no impact on the partisan makeup of the chamber, assuming West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III appoints a fellow Democrat, during the rest of President Obama's term. But it could complicate the timing for passage of the landmark financial legislation Democrats hope to send to the president this week.
Although the House probably has the votes to approve the far-reaching new financial rules hammered out by a conference committee last Friday, Byrd's absence creates a potential math problem in the Senate.
"If the House acts, we're prepared to do so right after that," Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), said Monday. As for whether Democrats could secure enough votes, Manley said: "Where are the Republicans? Are they all going vote against it? . . . We're just going to have to wait and see."
Democrats need GOP support to reach the 60 votes required to clear procedural hurdles standing in the way of a final vote, which takes only a majority. When the Senate passed its initial bill last month, Sens. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) joined Democrats in a 60 to 40 tally to end debate on the legislation and allow a final vote.
Manchin will make an interim appointment to replace Byrd, likely sometime after a memorial service and burial of the 92-year-old senator. West Virginia's secretary of state, Natalie Tennant (D), announced late Monday afternoon that a special election would be held in 2012 to fill out the final two months of Byrd's term; on the same ballot will be the election for the full six-year term.
Byrd's replacement will be the seventh appointed senator since the start of the 111th Congress in January 2009, a flurry of replacement senators first caused by a new administration led by two ex-senators who then selected two former Senate colleagues for Cabinet posts.
Democratic sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal party deliberations, said they expect Manchin to appoint a caretaker senator, just as Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) was selected to replace his former boss, Vice President Biden, knowing he would not run in the special election to succeed Biden permanently. This is because Manchin is widely seen to have an eye on the Senate race in 2012, when his second term is up.
Although Manchin would not officially discuss his 2012 ambitions -- in part out of respect to Byrd and his family -- those close to him indicated the governor is going to consider his options. "Joe Manchin is ready to do whatever he needs to in order to promote West Virginia values, nationally and in Washington D.C.," a source close to Manchin said, requesting anonymity.
Republicans are likely to turn to five-term Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) as their candidate. Capito, the daughter of former governor Arch Moore (R), considered a 2006 run against Byrd before bowing out.