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GOP Defers to Coleman on Fate

Senate Republican leaders appear willing to go to the mat for former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), but it’s unclear whether Coleman wants to go to the mat for himself.

The Minnesota Supreme Court is expected to rule within weeks on whether Democrat Al Franken bested Coleman in the long- contested 2008 Senate race. Republicans said they were ready to protest any Democratic leadership attempts to seat Franken — if the court rules him the victor — until Coleman either exhausts his appeals process in the federal courts or decides to throw in the towel.

“I personally think it’d be a mistake to seat anybody while the appeals are pending,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said. “I believe we would support him in whatever efforts he made to have this finally decided by a court.”

Cornyn added that Coleman might have a better shot in federal court, given his argument that the state’s recount — which ultimately put Franken 312 votes ahead of Coleman — used inconsistent criteria for deciding which votes to count.

Still, Cornyn and Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairman John Thune (S.D.) said they would leave the decision on whether to push the issue into federal courts to Coleman and his lawyers.

“We have a lot of confidence in Norm’s judgment and the judgment of his legal team, and if they believed ... that they have an argument that ought to be heard by the federal Supreme Court, my guess is, there’s going to be a lot of support for them trying to get it heard there,” Thune said.

One senior Senate Republican aide added that the GOP Conference supports Coleman because it believes he has taken a reasonable course of action given the closeness of the race and difficulties of the recount. If Franken were seated, Senate Democrats would attain a 60-seat, filibuster-proof margin.

“At no point has the Conference felt as though Sen. Coleman was simply delaying the inevitable or motivated by anything other than securing an accurate vote count,” the aide said. “So they will undoubtedly trust his judgment going forward.”

Republicans stopped short Wednesday of threatening an outright filibuster of any Democratic attempt to seat Franken. Thune noted that the issue has not been discussed in the Conference recently.

“I guess that’s a bridge we’ll cross when we come to it,” Thune said. “It’s not something that we’ve discussed. ... There’ll be a lot of consideration and discussion if and when that happens.”

But it may not come to that. Sources close to Coleman say the former Senator would likely give up his legal battle and accept defeat if the Minnesota Supreme Court decides in Franken’s favor. That’s because Coleman anticipates that Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) would ultimately sign Franken’s certification papers.

If the court rules against Franken, it would not likely declare Coleman the winner but instead would either send the matter back to the lower courts or order another recount. There is also an outside chance that it could order another election.

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