Kirk Named to Fill Kennedy Seat
WASHINGTON - Senate Democrats reclaimed a 60-vote majority Thursday after Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick named a former party official to fill a seat held for nearly five decades by Edward Kennedy.
Paul Kirk Jr., Democratic Party chairman from 1985 to 1989 and a longtime friend of the Kennedy family, said he will be "a voice and a vote" for Kennedy's causes. The 71-year-old will hold the seat until Massachusetts conducts a special election on Jan. 19.
"He often said that representing the people . . . of Massachusetts in the Senate of the United States was the highest honor he could possibly imagine," said Kirk, who is board chairman of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and executor of Edward Kennedy's will. "It will be my highest honor, as well."
Kirk's appointment once again gives Democrats the 60-vote majority they enjoyed before Kennedy's death on Aug. 25. Democrats would need all 60 votes to overturn filibusters on controversial legislation in the pipeline, from health care to climate change.
Also on Thursday, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., 91, was released from the hospital and said he is "looking forward to engaging in the upcoming debates and votes on health care."
Kirk, who served as a special assistant to Kennedy from 1969 to 1977, said he will not run for the seat in the January election.
"Congress is debating our future, right now," Patrick said. "The issues before the Congress and the nation are simply too important for us to be one voice short."
The appointment drew fire from Republicans. The Democratic-controlled state Legislature changed the law to allow for the interim appointment over the objections of Republicans, who accused the Democrats of hypocrisy. In 2004, the Democrats changed the state law to deny then-governor Mitt Romney, a Republican, the ability to fill a Senate vacancy. The state GOP sought a court order Thursday to block Kirk's appointment, arguing that the law requires Patrick to wait 90 days before naming a replacement.
Four Democrats and two Republicans have announced their intention to run in the special election, including Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, a Democrat, and state Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican.