(APPS - Washington) In a surprising turn of events which may have implications for passage of health care reform legislation, the U.S. Senate early this morning confirmed Martha Coakley as the new senator from Massachusettes.
This action was preceded late Friday evening by a special emergency session of the Massechusettes Senate and House of Representatives. The joint session was convened to vote in a new law allowing for certification of a winning candidate ahead of a special election. Passage of the measure was nearly unanimous, with State Senator Scott Brown, the only Republican elected official in Massachusetts, casting the lone dissenting vote.
Shortly after receiving a faxed opinion from the State Attorney General that the new law was constitutional, the joint session then voted to certify Democratt Martha Coakley as the winner of next Tuesday's special election. The second vote on formal certification was unanimous --Mr. Brown having left the capitol building. Governor Deval Patrick quickly signed the measure to send Ms. Coakly to Washington as the new Senator from the Commonwealth of Massechusettes.
In the U.S. Senate session, convened at 12 AM this morning, a resolution was put forward by Senator Burris of Illinois to immediately confirm the State of Massachusetts' action. "Far be it for this august body to hesitate in affirming a request by a state to fill a vacancy" stated Senator Burris as he introduced the measure.
Debating the issue on the Senate floor, Senate Leader Harry Reid argued, "This important action will allow us to move forward on health care reform so that the 60 million people currently without health insurance in this country can receive the care they so desperately need." In an uncharacteristically brief speech, Senator Kerry, the senior senator from Massachusetts, made an emotional plea to "Just do it for Teddy" and sat down.
During the five minutes of debate allotted to them, Senate Republicans once again tried to thwart the progress of health reform by arguing that both the actions by Massachusetts to certify a candidate prior to an election, and the Senate resolution to seat that candidate, were in violation of the U.S. Constitution and Senate rules. "During my entire career in public service I've never seen anything so outrageous as this," stated Senator McCain of Arizona.
There was a brief period of delay when it appeared that Democrats might not have the 60 votes necessary to cut off debate. However, a phone call from President Obama, who was following the proceedings on C-SPAN, to Senator Paul Kirk, quickly resolved the problem. Senator Kirk, who was appointed in September to temporarily occupy the Ted Kennedy Seat, cast the deciding vote to end debate, and then again to formally seat Ms. Coakley. Kirk noted ironically, "I may just have made Senate history by voting to put myself out of a job." Rumors that Kirk may have been offered a choice ambassadorship could not be confirmed.
At the conclusion of the vote, the new Senator Coakley, who was already in Washington, DC for a campaign fundraiser and to pick out new office furniture, immediately entered the Senate chamber and was sworn in. Coakley, while humbly acknowledging the enthusiastic applause, stated: "I want to thank my new colleagues in the Senate and the wisdom of our elected representatives in Massachusettes for expressing the true will of the people. I am honored to accept this seat for so long occupied by he Lion of the Senate and will do my best to uphold his dream of free universal health care for everyone."
Back in Boston, Republican candidate Scott Brown, contacted at 2 AM while shaking hands with constituents exiting sports bars near Fenway Park, vowed to keep campaigning right up until Tuesday's vote. On some of the early morning blogs, pundits are questioning his decision to continue campaigning in light of what is now considered a meaningless election. Many say it just confirms the complete disconnect between Mr. Brown and the people of Massachusetts.
In a brief statement released this morning prior to meeting with former presidents Clinton and Bush about Haiti relief, President Obama had this to say about Senator Coakley's confirmation:
I want to comment on the recent unprecedented action by the Senate last night to seat Senator Coakley before what was about to become a sham election. The Republicans, beholden to insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, Wall Street bankers and other special interests, were attempting to thwart the will of the American people to reform our failed health care system by influencing the Senate election in Massachusetts. This issue has been a matter of great concern to me. That failed election process could have resulted in a situation where the citizens of that great state, who already enjoy the benefits of universal health care insurance, would have been manipulated into voting to prevent others in this country from receiving similar insurance reform. That situation was just not acceptable to me. I will not condone a health care reform solution that rewards citizens in one state differently from those in another. Therefore, I am very pleased with the steps taken and the wisdom expressed by the Massechussettes Senate and House of Representatives in this matter, and by the actions of the Senate. I am looking forward to working with Senator Coakley on health care reform and other important issues. Thank you.
Rumors that House Speaker Nancy Palosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may convene a joint session of Congress late this evening to pass a health care reform bill, prior to conclusion of the conference negotiations and writing of the bill, could not be confirmed.