WASHINGTON – The independent senator-elect from Maine, Angus King, announced Wednesday he would join the Democratic caucus, saying the decision became “easy” once Democrats retained majority control after the election. His decision boosts the Democratic tilt in the Senate to 55-45.
The popular former governor campaigned as a moderate voice who would try to bridge the deep partisanship in the Senate.
He arrived at his choice of party affiliation after consultations with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada – but not with Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. King’s decision, though a well-kept secret, was little surprise, as most observers had expected him to find common cause with Democrats.
“By associating myself with one side, I am not in automatic opposition to the other,” King said in a morning news conference outside the Senate chamber before each party’s caucus met privately to elect its leaders for the new Congress. “I hope that in a small way I may be able to act as a bridge between parties, an honest broker to help nudge us toward solutions.”
King comes from a long line of Mainers who have tried to tamp down partisanship in Washington. He will replace retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe, who had said the political divide was part of her reason for retiring.
Reid joined Angus for the morning event, calling him “the best of what a United States senator should be.” The majority leader will see his ranks grow by two, to a working majority of 55, including two independents, when the new Congress convenes in January.
The Maine senator-to-be pledged on the campaign trail that he would seek to maintain his independence in Washington, while making sure he was able to effectively represent his state. After discussions, including with the two independents who currently caucus with Senate Democrats, retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, he came to the conclusion that, while it would be “tempting” to go it alone, “this simply would not be practical.”
Without joining a party caucus, a senator would not be able to rise through the committee structure, where much of the legislative work of Washington takes place, he concluded.
When Democrats retained control of the majority after last week’s election, he saw the party as having the most power. “Affiliating with the majority makes the most sense,” he said.
In many ways, King’s decision was expected. Democrats in Washington did not offer much support during the election for their own party nominee, even as they targeted the Republican candidate for defeat. King said he spoke with other Republicans, but never received a call from McConnell. The Republican leader’s office has said the Mainer was on a list of senators to call after the election.
With the senator-elect on the Democratic team, Reid shook King’s hand, and the men walked together to the party meeting.