THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Senate Republicans halt debate on bill for a Kennedy fill-in

By Matt Viser and Andrew Ryan
Globe Staff / September 19, 2009

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Senate Republicans temporarily halted debate yesterday on legislation approved Thursday night by the House that would give Governor Deval Patrick the power to appoint an interim successor to the late Edward M. Kennedy in the US Senate.

Republicans, who hold only five of the 40 seats in the chamber, have vowed to delay passage of the bill, which could send an interim Democratic senator to Washington for several crucial months in the debate over a health care overhaul.

Only a handful of state senators were in the chamber at noon, when the legislation was brought up. Senator Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, immediately called for debate to be postponed. Under Senate rules, a single senator can postpone debate until the next session.

Traditionally, this has been allowed to happen three times before the Senate president intervenes.

Tarr made the case that senators need time to study the four amendments that have been filed on the legislation. “The members deserve an opportunity to fully consider the content and impact of those amendments,’’ he said.

With that, five minutes after meeting and saying the Pledge of Allegiance, the meeting was adjourned. The Senate is next expected to meet Monday, and Republicans are expected to run out of parliamentary delay tactics by Tuesday or Wednesday.

“Obviously, we’re taking it up because we believe we have the votes,’’ Senate President Therese Murray said in an interview yesterday. “At this point, I think the people who have made the case that it’s important to have two senators - that rings pretty true.’’

When asked who should be appointed interim senator, she said: “I’m not getting involved in that. I don’t want to have the discussion. That’s not part of my job.’’

House members debated for nearly eight hours Thursday before passing the bill, which would place a senator in the office until a Jan. 19 special election. Democrats argued that a second voice was needed to represent the state in Washington and that Kennedy would have wanted an appointee to push for a health care overhaul, while Republicans charged Democrats with playing partisan politics and being pawns of Washington.

Republicans also charged Democrats with hypocrisy, saying Democrats rejected the same interim appointment provision in 2004, as an amendment to a bill that established the special election process for filling vacant Senate seats. Previously, the governor had the power to appoint a successor, who would then serve until the next general election.

At the time, Democratic leaders were trying to prevent the possibility that Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican, would have the power to appoint someone to replace US Senator John F. Kerry if he won the presidency.

When the House passed the legislation on Thursday night, 58 lawmakers voted the opposite way as they did on the interim appointment amendment on June 30, 2004.

With a governor from their party now in the corner office, 44 Democrats had a change of heart and switched their nay to a yea. All 13 Republicans that have remained in the House since 2004 changed course and voted against the proposal. Republicans have argued that the difference now is that the law is being changed while there’s an immediate vacancy.

One lawmaker swam against the partisan tide: Democrat Christopher G. Fallon of Malden changed his vote from yea to nay.

Patrick told reporters yesterday that President Obama personally asked him about the efforts to change the law when the two attended Kennedy’s funeral last month, according to the Associated Press. The governor said Obama did not lobby specifically for the change, but his aides have been in regular contact about it.

Possible candidates for appointment are believed to include Michael S. Dukakis, former governor; Paul Kirk Jr., former Democratic National Committee chairman; Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree; and Evelyn Murphy, former lieutenant governor.

“I’d rather not get into specific names,’’ Patrick said yesterday in a conference call. “I don’t want to presume anything yet. But I’m trying to put ourselves in a position so that if the Legislature gives the governor the power to fill this vacancy for a few months, I can act as quickly as possible.’’

He said he has been considering people he could appoint, but added, “I have not settled in my mind whom that might be’’

Andrea Estes of the Globe staff contributed to this report.