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Reid Shifts Blame in Recount Fight

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) shifted his guns Wednesday in the ongoing battle over Minnesota’s vacant Senate seat, redirecting his fire from the GOP candidate challenging the recount to National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas).

Rather than blaming former Sen. Norm Coleman (R) for trying to make up a 225-vote deficit to Democrat Al Franken via the courts, Reid’s chief spokesman, Jim Manley, charged that Cornyn is responsible for a legal fight that has left Minnesota with just one Senator since January.

Democratic Senate leaders also revealed on Wednesday that they would not challenge a vowed Republican filibuster and seat Franken absent official certification of his victory by the state.

“It’s not fair to the people of Minnesota to be represented by only one Senator,” Manley said. “And, it’s about time a Senator from Texas stop telling the people of Minnesota what’s best for them. Enough is enough.”

Senate Democrats originally tried to pressure Coleman into abandoning his legal challenge, allowed under Minnesota’s election law. But given that Franken’s standing was bolstered Tuesday by the first of what is expected to be multiple rulings by a three-judge state panel, the Senate Democratic leadership has moved to try and drive a wedge between Coleman and Senate Republican leaders.

“Coleman has to realize that if he allows Cornyn and McConnell to drag this out, he’ll be damaged for years to come,” argued one Senate Democratic aide.

Cornyn disputed the Senate Democratic criticism and suggested the GOP Conference’s promised filibuster of Franken’s installment could continue even if Coleman comes up short in state court and appeals to the federal bench. Cornyn and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) were clear Wednesday that the Republican Conference would dig in on its filibuster threat until Coleman exhausts all of his legal options.

Calling Manley’s assertions “ridiculous,” Cornyn said: “It’s a question of making sure that the votes of Minnesota voters actually count — every legal vote.”

Republicans believe Coleman’s case is solid. Coleman, a first-term incumbent running for re-election, led by about 700 votes the day after the November election. The closeness of the race triggered state-mandated automatic recounts, after which Franken ended up 225 votes ahead. Coleman’s term expired on Dec. 31.

Coleman is asking the state to allow 1,350 rejected absentee ballots to be added to the vote tally. The three-judge panel ruled Tuesday that only up to 400 of those might be counted, a decision that was considered a victory for Franken. If the panel’s subsequent rulings do not swing the race for Coleman, he is expected to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Although Reid had previously suggested that he might move to seat Franken this month regardless of whether his victory had been certified, the Majority Leader’s office acknowledged on Wednesday that no action would be taken until Coleman completes his challenges in state court.

Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) confirmed as much, saying he expects Franken to prevail in state court. Schumer, who ran the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee last cycle, predicted that once that happens, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) would be forced to sign an election certificate — something he has refused to do even though Democrats charge he could if he wanted to.

“We’re willing to wait through the Minnesota Supreme Court,” Schumer said. “As I understand the law ... once the Minnesota [court case] has run its course, [the governor and the secretary of state] have to sign the certificate, and then he gets seated.”

Earlier this year, as it became clear that Minnesota would not immediately certify Franken as the winner, Reid indicated that his patience with the delay in Franken’s installment would run out. Never one to back away from a fight, the Majority Leader acknowledged that it made no sense to try to seat Franken in the face of a GOP filibuster, while also suggesting that the warning wouldn’t cow him indefinitely.

Although Senate Republicans have talked about filibustering legislation this Congress, their vow to block Franken’s seating is the most assertive and concerted of the year. It shows a rare power play for a 41-seat minority.

Senate Republican aides have subtly mocked Reid on the matter, claiming that his failure to prevent Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.), tapped by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), from being seated is the reason he has not moved to install Franken.

But Reid’s office said the Majority Leader still reserves the right to press ahead with Franken’s seating, adding that the Nevadan would pick the fight at a time and under conditions of his choosing. One former Democratic leadership aide said Reid’s hesitancy was more a strategy than a reaction to the GOP filibuster.

“He’s pretty good about picking his fights. He’s not willing to back down, but having been on the other side, he has a pretty good sense of what can send a caucus through the roof,” this one-time aide said. “If you do anything that short-circuits the legal process, it could ignite a nuclear war with the Republicans.”

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