BANGOR, Maine — Independent U.S. Senate candidate Angus King, viewed by many as the favorite to win Olympia Snowe’s seat, is again taking heat for putting off questions about which party he’ll caucus with and suggesting he may not accept committee assignments.
Asked by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews which party King might caucus with if elected, the former two-term Maine governor seemed unconcerned about making a decision anytime soon.
“If you read the Constitution, Article 1 talks about Congress … and the word caucus doesn’t appear anywhere. Neither does the word party,” King said. “And I don’t see how you can necessarily exclude a duly elected United States senator from Maine or anywhere else because they refuse to join one or the other of the party caucuses.”
Matthews then jumped in: “Why don’t you say … I will give up all my committee assignments to maintain my independence.”
King replied: “That is absolutely an option and is one of the options I am considering.”
At least one of his opponents, Republican William Schneider, said King is making a mistake by even considering that option since so much of Congress’ work is done in committees.
“Without committee assignments, Angus King would be half a United States Senator,” said Schneider, Maine’s attorney general and one of six Republicans seeking his party’s nomination. “He would be giving up a huge opportunity to represent Maine’s interests with federal agencies and throughout the legislative process.
“Angus King is apparently willing to sacrifice Maine’s national interests to advance his campaign’s misleading message of independence.”
University of Maine political scientist Mark Brewer agreed that it would be risky for King to avoid any committee assignments, but he’s not convinced that will happen.
“My sense is that he is just saying that for campaign purposes to show people how committed he is to independence,” Brewer said Friday. “He also has said that he will evaluate his options after the election and I expect that’s still the case.”
In fact, King said just that that as his interview with Matthews continued.
“I don’t want to go down to just stand on principle and be a potted plant.” he said. “I’m going to look at all of those options and look at the parliamentary rules and whether they can constitutionally [deny me] a committee assignment.”
That comment was seized upon by the Schneider campaign, too, which pointed out that Senate rules — not the U.S. Constitution — govern committee assignments.
Since King announced his intent to seek Snowe’s seat, many have speculated about who the independent would caucus with if elected: Democrats or the Republicans. Most observers say King aligns more with Democrats but he has been careful to maintain independence so far.
Crystal Canney, spokeswoman for King’s campaign, said political watchers are paying attention to those sorts of things, but Maine voters are not. She shared a story of a recent visit by King to Becky’s Diner in Portland. One patron shouted to King from across the restaurant “I don’t care who you caucus with, I’m behind you,” according to Canney.
“Angus is going to do what’s in the best interest of Maine people,” she said Friday. “It may be that he has to caucus with one of the parties, but that won’t control how he votes.”
Although there are six Republicans, four Democrats and three independents seeking the U.S. Senate seat for Maine, King is the marquis name and that has meant more scrutiny, Brewer said.
Canney said she understands that but she added, “In this campaign, he’s taking nothing for granted. We’re going to work like we’re 20-30 points behind.”