It was the worst kept secret in Washington.

Surprising virtually no one, Sen.-elect Angus King (I-Maine) said Wednesday that he plans to caucus with Senate Democrats, because “affiliating with the majority makes the most sense.”

King won a decisive election last week to succeed retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and throughout his year-long campaign refused to say with which party he would caucus once he arrived in Washington.

Despite his decision, King didn’t rule out joining with Republicans in two years if they retake the majority and said he had several constructive conversations with GOP senators.

“By associating myself with one side, I am not in automatic opposition to the other,” King told reporters.

“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.”

King took the bold step of announcing his decision at a podium usually reserved for Senate leaders or committee chairmen to speak with reporters in the Senate’s Ohio Clock Corridor. He said he seriously contemplated not aligning with either party, but determined in recent days “that this simply wouldn’t be practical, and in fact would severely compromise my ability to be effective on behalf of Maine.”

For one thing, King said a caucus of one would rob him of any committee assignments, a critical element of the legislative process. “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.”
In seeking a party to support, King said he spoke with at least a dozen senators, including Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine). Most critically, King said that independent senators Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) and Bernie Sanders (Vt.) assured him that Senate Democrats “had consistently allowed them to maintain their independent positions and had never forced decisions upon them in the name of party loyalty.”

The senator-elect did confirm that he spoke with Reid about possibly serving on the Senate Finance Committee, a panel that virtually ever senator aspires to join. But King said Reid “pointed out to me that it took Sen. [John F.] Kerry [(D-Mass.)] 14 years to get on the Finance Committee, so it might be somewhat unlikely for a first-year senator to achieve that.”

As King took questions from reporters, Reid suddenly appeared beaming at the news.

“We have a strong tradition of independence,” in the Senate Democratic caucus, Reid said. “I embrace that independence. We as a caucus embrace that independence. I’m confident that senator King will be a bridge to working with Republicans and explaining to the American people what we need to accomplish more for our country.”

The pair then walked to the Old Senate Chamber where Democrats were gathering to reelect Reid as their leader.

As cameras flashed, Reid said to King: “We’re going to include you on a lot of things. Okay?”

“Let’s do some good,” King said.

For King’s full speech, click here.

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An interview with Angus King

The Fix: Why Angus King will caucus with Senate Democrats