All Eyes On Angus King To Pick Caucus Party

Robert Siegel talks to Senator-elect Angus King of Maine. King, an independent, won the seat Tuesday night that's being vacated by Olympia Snowe, a Republican. King says he'll decide "later next week" which party he'll align himself with, a much-anticipated determination that will help define the balance of power in the Senate.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Yesterday, Angus King, the former governor of Maine, won the Senate seat vacated by retiring Republican Olympia Snowe. King is an independent in the three-way race. Conservative and Republican groups spent millions on negative ads against him. The Democratic Party virtually abandoned its candidate assuming that King will caucus with Senate Democrats. But as he explained to me during last night's election night coverage, he's not willing to commit to a caucus yet. And he rejoins us now. Welcome to the program.

SENATOR-ELECT ANGUS KING: Robert, good to talk to you.

SIEGEL: And just in case I've gotten really lucky or you're so sleep deprived, you'll answer anyway. Will you caucus with the Democrats?

KING: I'll make that decision probably next week. I want to have some discussions. I'm coming down to Washington on Monday and want to see what the lay of the land is and what my options are. My criteria is pretty straightforward. Number one, I want to be as independent as I can be as long as I can be, and number two, I want to be effective on behalf of Maine. So that's what I'm going to be discussing.

SIEGEL: When you're saying be as independent as you can be for as long as you can be, you're talking about leverage and striking a good bargain for your joining the caucus?

KING: Well, I think that's part of it. But also a good question is does caucusing mean you're signing up for 85 percent of the votes or are you really just signing up for the organization of the Senate. I mean, that's one of the questions is, what does caucusing actually mean? What I said - I had a press conference today, is - what I said is whichever way that caucusing decision goes, I will not be an automatic vote in that direction nor will I automatically be opposed to the other team. My whole reason for going down there is to try to build bridges and get people talking to one another, and caucusing may be part of the process in order to participate fully in, you know, in committees and things like that, but I really think we got to get beyond this partisan stuff and we've got solve some problems.

SIEGEL: When you've spoken of Senate rules, of course, the relationship between partisanship and Senate rules is the ease with which bills are filibustered, the ability of individual senators to place holds on nominations. Are there questions like that that you'd like to hear either the majority or the minority leader answer for you?

KING: Yes, I think so. I mean, I've been talking up here, and I got to tell you that people in Maine, and I suspect other parts of the country, don't really understand this business of, for example, anonymous holds on nominations and holding people. We had a federal judge nominated up here about a year ago, wonderful guy, supported by the Republican senators, nominated by the president and still in limbo. It just doesn't make sense. So, yeah, the holds, filibuster, all of those things, I think, are ripe for discussion. Whether or not they will enter into this caucusing decision I'm not sure, but certainly I think it's something we have to talk about.

SIEGEL: You've said that you were inspired to run for the Senate because Olympia Snowe, the outgoing Republican senator from Maine, described the Senate as broken. That motive sounds either perverse or messianic. Why would you want to sign up with the Titanic at this late date?

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Well, that's an interesting way to put it. The other question I've had is why would anybody in their right mind want to leave Maine and go to Washington? But no, I mean, my reason for running was the mirror image of the reason Olympia Snowe left and it's - I don't want to sound corny about this, but I'm concerned about the country, and this fierce partisanship that we've seen is not serving public. And I worked in the Senate as a young staffer in the '70s and saw it actually work. I saw senators of both parties sit around the table, argue, disagree, agree, but finally reached consensus and passed important legislation. So it can happen.

SIEGEL: So just briefly, Governor King, tell me, in advance of those meetings you'll have next week in Washington, have you spoken already with either Minority Leader McConnell or Majority Leader Reid?

KING: I have talked to - a couple of times to Majority Leader Reid. I have also talked to Bob Corker, a Republican senator from Tennessee, a few minutes ago. And Harry Reid didn't put any pressure on me. He just said if you want to know how we work with independents, call Bernie Sanders or Joe Lieberman.

SIEGEL: Because they are both independents who've caucused with the Democrats recently.

KING: That's right. He basically was saying if, you know, if you want to know how we treat independents, talk to these two guys who have lived it. And I'll certainly be doing that before next week.

SIEGEL: And Senator Corker, did he have a message for you?

KING: Well, his message was he's looking forward to seeing me down there. And again, he didn't put any pressure on me or talk about caucusing explicitly, except to say that he hopes that we can work together and solve some of the country's problems. And I take him at his word.

SIEGEL: Well, Governor King, I guess Senator-elect King, thank you very much for talking with us today.

KING: Thank you, Robert. Thank you very much. Talk to you later.

SIEGEL: It's Angus King, the former governor of Maine, who won election last night as an independent to the U.S. Senate.

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