Friday, March 7, 2014
WASHINGTON - Sen. Angus King, who rode Maine voters' penchant for "independent" politicians to a Senate victory last fall, has amassed a solidly Democratic record during his first seven months in Congress, voting on the same side as party leaders roughly 90 percent of the time.
Sen. Angus King arrives at the Capitol on a spring morning. King says Senate leaders have respected his independence.
Maine Sunday Telegram file photo/Gregory Rec
Compare how Senator King and seven other senators have voted on major policy matters or high-profile issues ranging from gun control and immigration to the Keystone XL pipeline.
But King has also split with the Democratic leadership on a handful of key issues. And despite the lopsided vote tally, political observers see the independent former governor carving out a reputation as a willing deal-maker in the Senate's ever-shrinking "center."
"It was pretty well understood that he was going to caucus with the Democrats," said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University and former top adviser to Democratic and Republican senators. "One of the things that makes King so interesting to me is that, as an independent, he can serve as a sort of bridge between the Democrats and the Republicans."
A Maine Sunday Telegram analysis of the 200 recorded, or "roll call," votes in the Senate since January shows that King -- an independent who caucuses with the Democrats -- had voted the same way as key Democratic party leaders about 90 percent of the time. For the analysis, King's votes were compared to Assistant Majority Leader and Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a senior lawmaker and vice chairman of the Democratic conference.
King and Durbin voted the same way 177 times out of King's 197 recorded votes, or 89.8 percent. That percentage has barely budged since the National Journal compared the two senators' first 95 votes through mid-April. King and Schumer were on the same side for 91.9 percent of the votes analyzed by the Sunday Telegram.
By contrast, King was on the same page as Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Republican Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas just 35 percent of the time -- a fact that political analysts attribute to Republicans' use of the filibuster and the party's steady drift toward the right.
The Senate's other independent, Vermont's Sen. Bernie Sanders, voted with Durbin 92.4 percent of the time and with Cornyn on just 25 percent of votes. Freshman Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat and unabashed liberal, parted ways with Durbin only 3.6 percent of the time.
"It's roughly what I would have expected, maybe a little more on the Democratic side," Jim Melcher, a political scientist at the University of Maine at Farmington, said of King's voting record. "I think the story here is how much more conservative Senate Republicans have become over the last five or so years."
During the 2012 campaign, King repeatedly stressed the need to "fix the Senate" as he vowed to bring a less partisan and more compromise-minded style to Washington politics. While it was nearly universally anticipated that King would caucus with the Democrats, he delayed an announcement until after he arrived in Washington. Joining a caucus is key to securing plum committee assignments.
King said the high number of Republican filibusters and White House nominations likely skewed his voting record in the Democrats' favor. But he also acknowledged that, on many issues, he is simply more in line with Senate Democrats than Republicans.
"I think the most important point is that I vote according to what I think is right and not according to a party position or what somebody tells me," King said, adding that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has asked for his vote only once and he declined. "At this particular moment in history, I am agreeing more with the Democrats."
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