WASHINGTON – He was likely asked the question more than any other during a campaign that drew national attention: Would Angus King, as an independent U.S. senator, align himself with the Senate’s Democrats or Republicans?
On Wednesday, King may finally answer that question.
“I am going to try to,” he told reporters Tuesday when asked whether he would announce his decision in time to participate in Wednesday’s selection of party leaders. “I am having some further discussions today and will probably have some comments for you sometime tomorrow.”
King’s staff said late Tuesday that the independent senator-elect from Maine will hold a press conference at 9:15 a.m. Wednesday near the Senate chambers, although the topic of King’s talk was not specified.
Many lawmakers, Capitol Hill staffers and congressional observers will be surprised if he doesn’t decide to caucus with the Democrats, even though the two-term governor indicated again Tuesday that he hadn’t ruled out joining the Republican caucus.
Some organizations already lump King in with the Democrats to give the party a 55-to-45 edge over Republicans in the Senate.
In another potential indication, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has spoken with King several times since the election Nov. 6, and met with him in Washington on Monday.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky had not spoken or met with King as of Tuesday evening.
“I know he has been very cagey, but I can’t see him caucusing with this Republican Party,” said Ross Baker, a politics professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey who is a former longtime congressional staffer and research associate at the Brookings Institution.
King drew national attention throughout his eight-month campaign because of the possibility that he could tip the balance in the Senate, even though most observers expect him to caucus with Democrats because of his support for President Obama and more left-leaning social views.
Democrats strengthened their Senate majority in last week’s elections, reducing King’s potential leverage in a more closely divided chamber.
On Tuesday, King met with Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Roy Blunt of Missouri, who holds leadership positions in the Republican Conference and on his party’s whip team.
About 20 journalists gathered in Collins’ office to watch the pair exchange gifts — cuff links for King and a tea-maker for Collins — then waited outside for the two to speak afterward.
Collins said it was “wonderful to welcome a fellow centrist to the Senate” and she “would love to have Angus King as a member of our Republican caucus,” noting that she believes his fiscal perspective fits nicely with her party.
Yet even King’s future colleague from Maine didn’t appear to be making a hard sell on the caucus issue — at least not publicly — after a meeting in which the two talked about committee assignments and working together.
“I am positive that he will not be an automatic vote for either caucus and instead will look at the issues on their merits,” Collins said.
King’s caginess didn’t seem to trouble Maine voters. Unofficially, the former two-term governor got 53 percent of the vote in an election with five other candidates, including two party candidates.
King refused during the campaign to affiliate himself with either party even as many observers said he would likely side with Democrats. He claimed throughout that he was running against the partisanship in Washington that prompted Maine’s Sen. Olympia Snowe — a moderate known for working across the aisle — to drop her re-election bid in February.
“The important thing is, whichever decision I make … I don’t consider that building a wall between myself and the other party,” King said Tuesday. “When I was a governor as an independent, I worked with both parties.”
King did say several times during the campaign that he would remember who ran ads against him. The Republican National Senatorial Committee and two other Republican-aligned political action committees each spent more than $1 million on ads opposing King or supporting his Republican opponent, Charlie Summers.
King has spoken with the two current independents in the Senate, Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
King met Monday with Snowe, who will retire at the end of this term. In a prepared statement, Snowe said they discussed issues and she offered to help King with his transition.
“I believe his bipartisan approach is right on target and is what is required for the people of Maine, as it is critical for members of Congress to work across the aisle to address the enormous challenges facing the nation,” Snowe said.
King and other soon-to-be senators spent much of Tuesday attending special introductory sessions and workshops, having a joint luncheon and beginning the process of setting up offices.
As a new senator, King has been assigned temporary office space in the basement of one of the Senate buildings until permanent space becomes available.
Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at: