There has been something of a debate over whether the Senate can properly delay seating Republican Scott Brown if he wins today’s special election, giving the Democrats time to ram through their unpopular health care bill. The Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes has neatly summarized the arguments of GOP lawyers that the temporary Senator Paul Kirk’s term expires today with the election of a successor (either Coakley or Brown).
But Democrats are even now preparing the media to accept the idea that Kirk can remain at his post for up to two more weeks while the formal certification process proceeds at the pace chosen by officials in Democratically-controlled Massachusetts. Yet just two months ago, the lack of certification for two Democratic winners of congressional special elections was no barrier to their quick swearing in for a health care vote in the House — and it drew no complaints from the news media (and was enthusiastically received by MSNBC’s left-wing hosts).
As far as the Constitution is concerned, the first sentence of Article I, Section 5 would seem to leave it up to the Senate: “Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members.” But the Senate should be expected to adhere to its own past precedents and rules — and the media should be ready to expose any hypocrisy or shenanigans by Senate Democrats hoping to delay the inevitable.
Yet the press seems willing to parrot the notion that Senate Democrats can squeeze out another few days of their super-majority. On Monday’s Early Show, co-host Maggie Rodriguez mused: “It’ll be interesting to see if Brown, the Republican, wins, if the Democrats can defer his swearing in and get health care passed.”
ABC’s Matthew Mosk wrote on Sunday: “Should Brown prevail by a sizeable margin, Democrats could still slow the process enough to prevent him from being seated in time for a healthcare vote, election law experts said. Brown would have to be both certified the winner and formally seated in the Senate before he would be eligible to cast a vote. Both steps are overseen by Democrats.”
But Brown would not HAVE to be certified — Democratic House winners Bill Owens and John Garamendi had not been certified when they were sworn in just a couple of days after the November 3 election last year, with Democratic House leaders desiring their votes before the November 7 health care vote. Journalists thought the quick swearing-in was just fine.
Keith Olbermann celebrated at the top of his Countdown program on November 6, barely 72 hours after the polls closed: “The Democrats, with one more vote they can count on tonight, Congressman Bill Owens of the New York 23rd sworn in this morning. He will meet with the President at the White House tomorrow. In a statement, the congressman announcing his support for the Democrat`s health care reform bill. Quoting from that statement, ‘There is a fundamental need for reform and we must act with the sense of urgency.’”
On CNN’s Situation Room November 6, Dana Bash narrated video: “The Democratic winner of Tuesday's bitter New York special election sworn in....Giving Democratic leaders another vote on health care and making their enormous majority in the House even bigger. House Democrats now hold 258 seats. They need just 218 to approve their health care bill.”
The House voted to approve its health care bill late in the evening on Saturday, November 7. On Monday’s Today, NBC’s Chuck Todd saw Owens as crucial: “Despite a 40-seat advantage in the House, the Democratic leadership needed every vote it could find, including that of the new Democratic member from upstate New York, Bill Owens.”
And on The Ed Show November 9, host Ed Shultz hosted the newly-elected Congressman John Garamendi: “He went to Washington last week and voted for the House bill. Congressman, congratulations on your victory. Good to see a good Democrat can keep on moving for the people.” Shultz never suggested that Garamendi’s quick swearing-in was a problem.
If the media are really the watchdogs they claim to be, they’ll shine a bright spotlight on any Democratic attempts to have it both ways if Scott Brown wins tonight.