Barney Frank says he would like to be interim senator to conclude ‘fiscal cliff’ fights

Retiring Representative Barney Frank talked on Capitol Hill Thursday before the start of the 113th Congress.
Retiring Representative Barney Frank talked on Capitol Hill Thursday before the start of the 113th Congress.Cliff Owen/AP

Former representative Barney Frank revealed today that he had asked Governor Deval Patrick to appoint him to the interim Senate seat that would need to be filled if Senator John F. Kerry resigns to serve as secretary of state.

The governor laughed at the breach of confidentiality about what he has considered a private process, before conceding, “He’d be a great senator.”

Nonetheless, Patrick quickly added: “I have a lot of factors I’m considering.”

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Frank told the Globe that he changed his mind about continuing in public life after President Obama and congressional leaders announced their fiscal cliff compromise over the New Year’s holiday.

While that deal raised tax rates on individuals earning more than $400,000 per year, it delayed for two months any resolution to government program cuts or changes in entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

“The first months of the new Senate will be among the most important in American history. I may be a little immodest, but I called the governor and said I think I can be a help in reaching a fair solution to some of these issues,” Frank said.

“I think there are progressive ways to work on Social Security and Medicare. I think making the case against them (Tea Party Republicans) on the debt limit is important,” the Newton Democrat added. “A split emerged in the Republican Party over the fiscal cliff, with mainstream Republicans splitting with the radical right. I think it’s important for us to continue to exploit that. We need to reach out to conservative Republicans who nonetheless are willing to compromise, and find a way to reach a deal.”

Frank also said he wanted to fight for the Massachusetts medical community as health care changes are debated.

Asked for the governor’s reaction to his offer, apparently made in a phone call Thursday, the former congressman said: “He said, ‘Thank-you for telling me.’ As you expect, he was noncommittal.”

Patrick addressed the subject Friday afternoon, during a State House news conference called for other topics.

“Congressman Frank is a really gifted legislator, and he’d be a great senator – even on an interim basis. I have a lot of factors I’m considering and he’s definitely on the list,” the governor told reporters.

The governor has cloaked his search in secrecy, acknowledging that he has spoken with people who are interested in appointment or who have recommended others, but he has refused to discuss individual names.

“I think in every case the other person has treated (the conversations) as confidential. In congressman Frank’s case, he’s chosen not to on his end. I’m going to keep my end confidential,” Patrick said.

Asked if he would have preferred that Frank kept their conversation private, the governor let out a laugh and said of the famously irrepressible congressman, “Does it matter, in the case of Congressman Frank, what I would have preferred?”

Turning serious, he added: “Congressman Frank is an incredible public leader, thought leader, and legislator.”

Asked if Frank had a senatorial temperament, the governor repeated: “I think he’d be a great interim senator and, like I say, he’s on the list.”

During another Globe interview in mid-November, Frank flatly ruled out running in the special election that would be held simultaneously to permanently fill any Senate vacancy. The 72-year-old said he wanted to write books, teach, and speak on the lecture circuit after 45 years in public life.

He repeated that vow today, saying, “Absolutely not, there’s no way I would run.” He noted that he already has paid speeches lined up for the period when he would be interim senator, which he would cancel were he appointed. But said the temporary nature of the interim appointment and the new issues confronting the Senate would make the interim job appealing.

Frank said he changed his mind “as I sat in the caucus room and listened to them as they outlined the deal.”

A Patrick aide said the governor has not changed his posture on the situation and will not fill the seat until Kerry has been confirmed for his new job and a vacancy officially exists.

Patrick aides told the Globe earlier this week that the governor feels no need to fill the seat with a political luminary, and instead is solely focused on someone who would be a good political partner for the state and not have their own political agenda. Among the type of candidate that might fill that bill is outgoing Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez.

The election to permanently fill the seat would then have to be held in 145 days to 160 days, meaning the interim appointee would likely serve until late June.

Outlining his rationale for the interim appointment, Frank told the Globe: “Given that there’s not going to be any preparation time, I could be right in the middle of resolving some of the most important issues facing the country.”

Frank first mentioned his call to Patrick during an appearance this morning on the MSNBC program “Morning Joe.”

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