Politics

November 14, 2012

King says Senate Democrats his best bet for success

Maine's senator-elect decides to caucus with the majority party because he wants to be effective but still independent.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON – Angus King is going with the Democrats.

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Senator-elect Angus King, I-Maine, walks to a news conference where he announced that he will caucus with the Democrats in the 113th Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012.(AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)

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Sen.-elect Angus King, I-Maine, talks with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 14,2012, after King announced that he will caucus with the Democrats in the 113th Congress. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)

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Angus King's full caucus statement

After months of speculation and sidestepping the question, King announced Wednesday morning what many observers had long ago predicted: He will caucus with the Democratic Party when he officially assumes his seat in the Senate early next year.

"The outcome of last week's election in some ways makes this decision relatively easy," said King, an independent. "In a situation where one party has the clear majority and effectiveness is an important criteria, affiliating with the majority makes more sense."

King's widely expected decision to side with the Democrats will effectively give the party a 55-to-45 edge over Republicans in the Senate, up from the 53-seat majority they now hold. It also means Maine will have a senator caucusing on both sides of the aisle, although both King and Republican Sen. Susan Collins are considered centrists.

The former two-term Maine governor refused throughout his campaign to affiliate himself with one of the parties and, instead, said that as an independent he could help bridge the partisan divide in Washington. King's announcement Wednesday means he will remain an independent, but that he will participate in weekly strategy meetings held by the Democrats. Caucus members are also often expected to support the party on close partisan votes, such as overcoming a filibuster.

But King insisted Wednesday -- as he did throughout his campaign -- that just because he is caucusing with one of the parties does not mean he plans to toe the party line. Nor does affiliating with one side mean that he will be "in automatic opposition to the other," he said.

King said he spoke at length with the Senate's two current independents -- Sens. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont -- as well with former Maine Sen. George Mitchell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

"I came away from these conversations reassured that my independence would be respected and that no party-line commitment would be required or expected," King told reporters at a Capitol news conference. "And so I have decided to affiliate myself 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."

King struck a middle ground between Republican and Democratic positions on many issues during the campaign. He backed a compromise plan to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, a combination of tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to take effect in January if Congress doesn't agree to a debt-reduction plan. King, for example, said he supports increasing taxes on people earning more than $250,000, but that the timing of the increase should be based on some level of strength in the economy rather than decided by political "brinksmanship."

Although not required, caucusing with a party is key to being assigned to the Senate committees where most of the legislative work is done and where individual lawmakers can often have the biggest impact. Attempting to "go it alone" would have largely excluded King from the committee process.

There was some speculation during the campaign that King might try to use the caucus question to negotiate his committee seats. King told Reid that he was interested in the Senate Finance Committee, which handles taxes, health care and other high-profile issues. Retiring Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe serves on the Finance Committee.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., center. accompanied by incoming Senate Democrats, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. From left are, Sen.-elect Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., Sen.-elect Tim Kaine, D- Va., Sen.-elect, current Rep. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Reid, Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.,and Sen. -elect Angus King, I-Maine, who will caucus with the Democrats. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., left, talks with Sen.-elect Angus King, I-Maine on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. King said Wednesday he has decided to caucus with Democrats, which will add to the party's voting edge. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

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Sen.-elect Angus King, I-Maine announces on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, that he will caucus with the Democrats in the 113th Congress. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)

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