Transcript: Maine’s Senator-elect Angus King on caucusing with the Democrats
Edited by Jenny Jiang
Transcript of remarks by Senator-elect Angus King (I-Maine) on his decision to align with the Democratic Caucus on Oct. 14, 2012:
Today I’m announcing my decision as to which party, if any, I will associate with in my work here in the U.S. Senate.
Before doing so, however, I’d like to outline my thinking on this issue and set out the principles that have guided by decision.
In answering this “Who will you caucus with?” question repeatedly during the campaign – and I emphasize the word “repeatedly” – I established two basic criteria that I want to maintain my independence as long and as thoroughly as possible while at the same time being effective in my representation of Maine.
The first option I considered was whether I could literally go it alone and not align myself with either party and operate entirely outside of the current partisan structure of the Senate.
Although tempting in many ways, it has become apparent from extensive research into the Senate rules and precedents as well as discussions with those familiar with the operations of the Senate that this simply wouldn’t be practical and, in fact, would severely compromise my ability to be effective on behalf of Maine.
Occasionally, my vote would probably prove crucial and be 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.
The second question, then, if I’m going to caucus or associate myself with a caucus is which side to choose. And the outcome of last week’s elections, in some ways, makes this decision relatively easy.
In the situation where one party has a clear majority and effectiveness is an important criteria, affiliating with the majority makes the most sense. The majority has more committee slots to fill, has more control over what bills get considered, and more control over the Senate schedule.
But the question remains “What does caucusing mean?” and this is a question that I raised continuously in the campaign and “How does this decision affect my intention to remain as independent as possible?”
In order to answer this, I had substantial conversations with two Independent Senators currently serving the Senate, both of whom are affiliated with the Democratic Caucus: Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Both confirmed that the Democratic Caucus generally and its leadership in particular had consistently allowed them to maintain their independent positions and had never forced positions upon them in the name of party loyalty.
Secondly, I had lengthy discussions with the Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada as well as former Majority Leader and my good friend, George Mitchell of Maine, on this very question. I came away from these questions reassured that my independence would be respected and that no party line commitment would be required or expected.
And so, I’ve 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.
One final word: By associating myself with one side, I am not in automatic opposition to the other. I’d like to repeat that: By associating myself with one side, I am not in automatic opposition to the other.
In a 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 arithmetics.”
In fact, this situation of a divided government has only two possible outcomes: Action based upon good-faith compromise or no action resulting from political deadlock.
In my opinion, this latter – no action based upon deadlock – is simply unacceptable to the people of Maine and the people of the United States.
We must find a way to act because many of the problems before us – the debt and deficit is probably the best example – have a time fuse. The longer we avoid acting, the worse they get. In this case, no decision is in itself a decision, and it is almost undoubtedly the wrong decision.
The challenges before us are too great and the stakes are too high to allow partisan differences to keep us from finding common grounds even on the most difficult issues. And I hope that in a small way – in a small way – I may be able to act as a bridge between the parties – an honest broker to help nudge us towards solutions.
I’ve talked with more than a dozen Senators of both parties in the past 3 days and have been impressed by their seriousness of purpose and good-faith desire to serve the country. I am truly humbled and honored to be among them and look forward to working with each of them in the months and years to come as we struggle to fulfill the fundamental promise of the Constitution – to form a more perfect union.
Thank you very much and I’d be glad to take a few questions.
Excerpts from press conference Q&A:
Question: If the Republicans take back the majority would you consider caucusing with them?
Angus King: Well, there would be two considerations. It’d be a question of the majority but also it’d be a question, which I emphasized, on my ability to maintain my independence.
Question: The way the filibuster works in the Senate and the cloture rule, how do you see yourself maybe voting on some of these?
Angus King: Well, I represent a small state, and the filibuster and the rules of the Senate, in many ways, are designed to protect the interests of small states. So I’m not one who thinks it should be abolished all together. However, I think its use in recent years has been excessive and I hope to talk with other Senators who are more expert in this matter to find a solution that would limit its use as a tactic of delay and prohibiting action but at the same time protect the interests of the states. So somewhere between no filibusters at all and the current situation. I think there’s got to be some middle ground, and in fact I’m going to be talking with various Senators about that vote in the next few days.
Question: [Overlapping audio]
Angus King: I discussed with Sen. Reid several committee assignments, and of course it’s a very complicated process where he has to determine who’s moving where, what openings there are. And I indicated several committees that I would be interested in but there were no promises made except for fair and full consideration of my interest as a Senator, as a representative of Maine.
Question: [Overlapping audio]
Angus King: My father used to say if you don’t ask, you don’t get. The Finance Committee, certainly I think, is going to be a very important committee over the next several years because of the probability of comprehensive tax reforms as part of the debts solution. I did raise that with Sen. Reid. He pointed out to me that it took Sen. Kerry 14 years to get on the Finance Committee so it might be somewhat unlikely for a first year Senator to achieve that. But as I said, no harm in asking.
Question: [Incomprehensible audio]
Angus King: I’m going to leave that between myself and Sen. Reid.
Question: You said you spoke to Sen. Reid. Did you also speak with Sen. McConnell?
Angus King: I did not speak with Sen. McConnell. I did, however, speak to Sen. [Roy] Blunt, who’s second leader in the Republican caucus, and we had a very good conversation. But I did not talk to Sen. McConnell but talked to Sen. Blunt. Also heard from Sen. [Bob] Corker, Johanns – Mike Johanns who was a colleague of mine as Governor and a number of Republicans. But the sort of conversation with Republican leadership was with Sen. Blunt.
- Angus King’s Senate campaign website