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Former Sen. Bob Kerrey’s Seniority In Debate

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (above) might take issue with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (below) attempting to reinstate former Sen. Bob Kerrey’s seniority should he again run for Senate and win — a deal Lautenberg himself didn’t receive in a similar situation in 2002.

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The possibility of former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) coming back to the Senate with his seniority intact could spur tension within the Democratic caucus, but it’s a price some Members are willing to pay to help keep their majority.

Sen. Benjamin Cardin (Md.), for example, said he is open to discussion on the issue.

“From the point of view of trying to deal with people who have a break in service, I can understand making certain accommodations,” Cardin said. “I would certainly want to listen to the leaders recommendations on that regard.”

One Member who likely would take issue with the idea of Kerrey coming back with full seniority — if it were to happen — is Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).

“I am not familiar with it, but I assume that maybe retroactively [Senate Democratic leaders] would reconfigure my situation,” Lautenberg said Tuesday of the possibility of Kerrey returning to the Senate with his seniority.

With Kerrey reconsidering his earlier decision to forgo a race in Nebraska, sources have said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) might try to persuade Members of the Democratic Conference to restore Kerrey’s seniority on committees and possibly in the Senate if he runs and wins. It was a deal Lautenberg sought when he came out of retirement in 2002 to revive the party’s prospects of holding the Senate seat that Robert Torricelli (D) stepped down from amid corruption charges. Lautenberg first served in the Senate from 1982 to 2001.

“I came in and I got nothing” regarding seniority, Lautenberg said. “I got a chance to put my own money into a race where we were 22 points behind, and three days after I said I would run, I was up 11 [points] for a seat that was gone,” Lautenberg said. Rank-and-file opposition to restoring Lautenberg’s seniority prevented leaders from accommodating him at the time, but the New Jerseyan was promised seats on his old committees, such as Appropriations, as soon as a position opened up.

Lautenberg, who is currently ranked 46th in overall Senate seniority, according to Roll Call’s seniority list for the 112th Congress, said he previously outranked Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who is ranked ninth and entered the Senate in 1983.

Lautenberg was more senior than Bingaman because he was appointed to the seat shortly before Bingaman took office. 

Lautenberg said he would welcome Kerrey back, noting he would be “a vital part of the insurance policy” in helping the Democrats keep their majority in the Senate.

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