Gov. Baker would veto change to Senate vacancy law

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS/WWLP) – Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday that he would veto any legislation sent to him changing the rules for how a vacancy in Congress gets filled, as speculation about whether U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren might be asked to join President-elect Joe Biden’s cabinet intensifies.

Baker, in an interview with WBZ-TV’s Job Keller, made the threat as the House considers an amendment to the state budget that would require Baker to make a temporary appointment to fill a vacant Senate seat from the same political party as the person giving up the seat. In this case, the Republican governor would need to appoint a Democrat, under the amendment.

The amendment was filed by Amherst Democrat Rep. Mindy Domb and has nine co-sponsors, none of whom are in leadership positions.

Rep. Domb told 22News that she wants to make sure that whoever fills a vacant U.S. Senate seat is from the same party as the person who left, regardless of what party that is. The issue of filling a vacant seat came to light after the Biden Campaign set their sites on Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Even though Warren has not officially been tapped to join the Biden administration, lawmakers on Beacon Hill want to put a policy in place that would ensure that her replacement is a Democrat.

If the Legislature were to change the rules, it would be the third time rule change in this area since 2004 when the Democrats on Beacon Hill acted to strip then-Gov. Mitt Romney of his appointment powers when they thought John Kerry might win the White House.

“And so if voters chose a democrat to be in the U.S. Senate representing them I felt it was important to make sure that if they needed to be replaced for whatever reason that the person they’d be replaced by would be another democrat,” Rep. Mindy Domb said.

The current law allows the governor to make a temporary appointment to fill a vacant seat in the U.S. Senate until a special election can be held within 145 to 160 days of the vacancy. It was last changed in 2009 at the request of U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, who was ailing and concerned about securing the votes needed to pass the Affordable Care Act.

However, the amendment did not pass during budget negotiations on Thursday, Rep. Domb told 22News that she may end up filing it as a stand-alone bill. 

“It’s a bad look for everybody and if they were to send legislation to change the rules yet again, you know and I don’t say this very often, I’d veto that because I think situational dynamics around this stuff when it comes to process associated with elections, it’s just a bad look for government generally,” Baker told Keller on Thursday.

The law has been used twice since 2009, both times by former Gov. Deval Patrick, following the death of Kennedy and President Barack Obama’s appointment of Kerry in 2013 to become secretary of state.

Neither House nor Senate leadership has commented on the Domb amendment, but the Legislature was quick to change the law in 2004 when it thought Romney would get to appoint a Republican to the U.S. Senate to serve for the balance of Kerry term.

While it appears that the GOP will retain control of the Senate after last week’s election, the balance of power will likely hinge on two runoff elections in Georgia for seats currently held by Republicans. Democrats would have to win both to take power, and couldn’t afford to lose Warren’s seat.

Baker said the notion that the rules should be changed based on who is in political power is “part of why I’m so upset about what’s going on in Washington right now generally with the results of the election.” Baker has lambasted President Trump and Republicans for sewing doubt about the results of the election and the validity of the electoral process.

“So look – if Senator Warren ends up being appointed by the Biden administration to do something, you know, I’ll follow the law, and I really think everybody else who works in this building should do the same thing,” Baker said.

Democrats on Beacon Hill occupy enough seats in both the House and Senate to potentially override any Baker veto, should it get to that point.

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