November 13, 2012

King still cagey about which political party he plans to caucus with

The parties caucus -- or meet privately among themselves -- to do things like pick committee chairmen, set the party's legislative agenda and talk about other party-specific policy

By Kevin Miller
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- He's been asked the question probably more than any other during a campaign that drew national media attention and political money: Would Angus King align himself with the Democrats or Republicans?

click image to enlarge

Angus King answers a question during an interview with WMTW reporter Paul Merrill on Oct. 23. King, newly elected to the U.S. Senate as an independent, may announce which party he will caucus with on Wednesday.

Portland Press Herald file photo by Gregory Rec

On Wednesday, Mainers who voted to send King to Washington may finally have their answer.


"I am going to try to. I am having some further discussions today and will probably have some comments for your sometime tomorrow," King told reporters Tuesday when asked whether he would announce his caucus decision in time to participate in Wednesday's selection of party leaders.

Whenever that announcement finally comes, King's decision is not expected to surprise many lawmakers, Capitol Hill staffers or congressional observers. Although a political independent from a state where unenrolled voters are the largest voting block, King is widely believed to lean toward the Democratic side of the aisle.

In fact, some media 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 to King several times since last Tuesday and met with him in Washington on Monday. Reid's counterpart from the other side, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, had not spoken with 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 and former longtime congressional staffer and research associate at the Brookings Institution.

King attracted national media attention throughout the election because of the possibility that he could tip the balance in the Senate, even though most observers expect him to caucus with the Democrats due to his support for President Barack Obama and more left-leaning social views. Democrats strengthened their majority in the Senate last week, lessening the potential leverage King could have commanded 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.

A crowd of about 20 journalists gathered inside Collins' office to watch the pair exchange gifts -- cuff links for King and a tea-maker for Collins -- and then waited outside for the two to speak afterward.

Collins said it was "wonderful to welcome a fellow centrist to the Senate" and said she "would love to Angus King as a member of our Republican caucus," noting that she believes his fiscal perspective fit in 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, or at least not publicly, following a meeting where the two talked about committee assignments and working together.

"But regardless, 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.

The parties caucus -- or meet privately among themselves -- to do things like pick committee chairmen, set the party's legislative agenda and talk about other party-specific policy.

King's cageyness didn't seem to trouble Maine voters. Unofficially, the former two-term governor received 53 percent of the vote in an election with five other candidates on the ballot.

King steadfastly refused during the campaign to affiliate himself with either party even as many observers said he would likely side with Democrats. Instead, he claimed throughout that he was running against the partisanship in Washington that prompted Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, a moderate known for working across the aisle, to drop her re-election bid.

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