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If Angus King wants to join the GOP, Sen. Thad Cochran has a seat on the Appropriations Committee at the ready.
“If he’d like to become a Republican, let’s talk,” the Mississippi Republican quipped this week.
Though the former Maine governor is widely expected to caucus with Democrats if he wins his Independent bid for Senate this year, King has a chance to wield disproportionate influence in what is sure to be a narrowly divided chamber, regardless of which side he lines up with on leadership votes. And the courtship for his vote could be furious, even after he picks sides.
Cochran, who would welcome a return to the majority on the powerful Appropriations Committee, said the fawning over King could rival that of former Sen. Jim Jeffords (Vt.), who switched allegiances in 2001, handing control of the Senate — and the accompanying gavels — to the Democrats.
“He’ll be the favorite date,” Cochran said. “Everybody will be inviting him to dinner and trying to get to know him.”
Both party leaders could make elaborate offers to King even though Republicans doubt he would join their cause, given King has already said he supports President Barack Obama for re-election.
In an interview with Roll Call, King sounded receptive to negotiating. He said he would expect to see better offers from Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) the closer the balance of power in the chamber.
Reid is no stranger to the kind of horse-trading that may be needed to lure King into the stable. As Minority Whip in 2001, he agreed to cede his own claim to the gavel of the Environment and Public Works Committee to Jeffords if he switched.
King, however, said he has purposefully avoided discussions with Reid, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (Wash.) or any other Democrats who could lead to a backroom deal.
“I haven’t talked to any Senators. And nobody on my staff has talked to any Senators. For the very reason that I want to be able to do what I just did and say, zero,” King said. “Within four days of my announcement, the Republicans made an ad about a backroom deal. They just made it up.”
Jeffords became an Independent who caucused with Democrats and maintained a streak of unpredictability for the remainder of his Senate career. On a special education bill, for instance, he pushed to get additional money for Vermont.