By Aaron Blake - 09/24/09 03:41 PM EDT
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) on Thursday named former Democratic National Committee Chairman Paul Kirk to the Senate seat recently vacated by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).
Speaking at a press conference, Patrick said it was vital that Massachusetts be represented in the U.S. Senate at such a critical time. On Wednesday, the State Legislature passed a bill giving him appointment powers, and he said that he sent a letter Thursday to the secretary of state declaring an emergency and expediting the process.
Kirk, 71, is the head of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and a longtime former aide to Ted Kennedy. He was presented as someone who can easily pick up where Kennedy left off.
Both Patrick and Kirk assured that Kirk would not run in the January special election, when Massachusetts voters will choose someone to serve out the rest of Kennedy’s term.
Kirk said he expected to be sworn in Friday. He called it a “profound honor, and I accept it with sincere humility.”
In a brief statement, the White House, which had pushed for the appointment, praised the pick.
"Paul Kirk is a distinguished leader whose long collaboration with Sen. Kennedy makes him an excellent interim choice to carry on his work until the voters make their choice in January," said President Barack Obama in the statement.
But despite the quick timetable, Republicans are threatening to pursue legal action against Patrick for declaring an emergency. Without such a declaration, he would have had to wait 90 days to make the appointment. Republicans say state Supreme Court precedent doesn’t allow for the declaration in this case.
Republicans would likely have to seek an injunction to prevent Kirk from being sworn in. They have also asked the secretary of state to reject Patrick’s emergency declaration or seek an advisory opinion from the courts.
Secretary of State William Galvin (D) was present at the announcement but hasn’t commented on the matter yet.
National Republican Senatorial Commitee (NRSC) Executive Director Rob Jesmer decried the appointment as political gamesmanship.
“The Democrats’ power play in Massachusetts has nothing to do with principle, and everything to do with politics," Jesmer said. "With their unpopular government-run healthcare bill on the brink of failure, Democrats in Washington desperately need another vote in the U.S. Senate, and it is clear that this administration will stop at nothing to ram it through the Congress."
The GOP has cried foul because Democrats in the state were effectively giving Patrick appointment powers they had stripped from GOP Gov. Mitt Romney just five years ago.
Patrick acknowledged that “for some in the Legislature, this was a difficult vote.”
But he said he is “quite convinced” that he is acting within the law and said he has consulted with legal counsel on the matter. He accused Republicans of playing politics with the appointment powers as well.
“They though it was a good idea then,” he said. “I question why they don’t think it’s a good idea now.”
Kirk was asked about his time as a lobbyist for pharmaceutical interests and stressed that there is no conflict of interest at hand. He said he severed ties with the companies a decade ago.