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Replacing Byrd

July 8, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

UPDATE: Good news for all of you waiting for Congress to pass the unemployment insurance extension — the AP is reporting that West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw has issued the ruling that Gov. Manchin requested on whether he could hold a special election for Sen. Byrd’s seat on the 2010 ballot. Manchin had said he would wait on the ruling before appointing an interim senator to fill the seat. As I reported below, the ruling wasn’t expected until some time next week.

Now that the ruling is in, it’s possible that Manchin will appoint a replacement before the end of the week so they they can be sworn in to the Senate on Monday. The interim senator is expected to give Senate Democrats the 60th vote they need to overcome a Republican filibuster of the unemployment insurance extension and move it forward towards becoming law.

Original post below…

As just about everything congressional Democrats are trying to do in these last few months of the 111th Congress depends on having a Democrat in the seat of the late Sen. Robert Byrd [D, WV], all eyes are on West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin (D), who, under WV law, is responsible for appointing a replacement. There has been some confusion recently over how exactly the seat would be filled. The big question — will the new senator serve until Byrd’s term was scheduled to end (2012), or would West Virginia hold a special election this November and appoint an interim replacement for Byrd who would serve only until the end of this session?

West Virginia law is antiquated and ambiguous on the matter, and Gov. Manchin has said that he plans to hold off on any actions, including appointing a replacement for Byrd, until the WV attorney general, Darrell McGraw, renders a legal opinion on the matter. Manchin has asked McGraw to render an opinion “as quickly as possible,” and McGraw is expected to do so some time next week. But it’s likely that the wait will delay the seating of an interim Byrd replacement for up to a week or more.

To be clear, no matter what AG McGraw’s findings are on the matter, an interim replacement for Byrd will be appointed in the meantime. That is clearly required by the state’s laws.

What this likely means for action in Congress is that Senate Democrats will not be ready to vote on final passage of at least two major bills — financial reform and an extension of unemployment insurance benefits — right when they reconvene on Monday the 12th. However, both bills are expected to pass and be signed into law without any more problems once the interim senator is seated. And in the cease of the unemployment bill, benefits will be paid back retroactively for people who have been cut off since Congress let the extended filing deadline expire on June 2.

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