Senior Democrats in Washington and Massachusetts have thrown their support behind a proposal to appoint a temporary replacement for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, whose death Tuesday has left his chief cause -- national health insurance -- with one less vote.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday endorsed the plan to change the state's law to allow an interim appointment before a special election, when a candidate will be chosen to serve out the last three years of the Massachusetts Democrat's term. Reid joined Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Massachusetts Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick and other top legislative leaders who want to ensure that the state has two senators in the fall.
Under current Massachusetts law, Kennedy's seat would be vacant until a special election, probably in January. That would leave Democrats with one fewer vote on healthcare and other key issues -- one shy of the 60 needed to avert filibusters.
Kennedy sent a letter last week to Patrick and Massachusetts lawmakers asking that the law be changed so the governor could name a successor to hold the job until the special election.
Democrats initially seemed cool to the proposal, and Republicans complained that it smacked of hypocrisy, given that the appointment power was taken away in 2004, when the GOP held the governor's office and Kerry was running for president, leaving his seat vulnerable to a Republican appointment.
But the tide has shifted since Kennedy's death. Patrick told reporters in Boston on Wednesday that changing the law seemed like "a reasonable idea" and that he would sign a bill if it reached his desk.