With concern rising in Minnesota that the state could be without a Senator for the crucial early months of the next Congress, Sen. Amy Klobuchar weighed in with a significant proposal this weekend: seat the unofficial winner until all legal challenges are finalized.
"If the Canvassing Board declares a winner, that should be our senator," said the Minnesota Democrat. Even if a court challenge were to follow, she added, "[The Senate] could seat a senator pending the litigation."
Should Klobuchar's vision bear out, it would likely result in Al Franken taking over the Senate seat on a temporary basis. Democrats would get a 59th caucus member and a potentially important vote on key legislative matters.
The Minnesota canvassing board is set to certify the vote total from the election sometime in early January (a date is not yet official). As it stands know, Franken should emerge ahead in the count by a scant 47 votes. Sen. Norm Coleman would then have seven days to challenge the board's conclusion, a course of action his campaign has said it will almost certainly pursue.
The legal gridlock that would ensue could mean that there is no official Senate winner for weeks, if not much longer. Thirty-four years ago in New Hampshire, a similar situation took place, and the state was short a representative in the Senate for ten months.
At this point, there seems to be little political will from the Governor's office to resolve the problem. Republican Tim Pawlenty's office has said he only has the authority to appoint a replacement in the case of a permanent vacancy. So Klobuchar's statement, reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, carries particular weight.
There is, moreover, historical precedent for seating Franken on a temporary basis. In 1996, Mary Landrieu won the Louisiana Senate seat in a hotly contested race. But her opponent, State Representative Woody Jenkins, alleged that massive election fraud had contributed to his defeat. The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate agreed to look into the charges but allowed Landrieu to serve in the interim, pending investigation. The Rules Committee ultimately discovered that Jenkins had coached and paid witnesses to testify, thus discrediting his complaints of corruption and securing Landrieu's place in the Senate.