WASHINGTON (CNN) - As Massachusets politicians ponder whether the Senate seat of Sen. Edward Kennedy will remain vacant until there is a special election, one influential national Democrat is endorsing the idea of an interim appointment.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, likes the idea.
As Congress moves to critical falls this fall on health care, such a move would again give Democrats the crucial 60 votes in the chamber, since Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick would be expected to appoint a Democrat. The two independents in the Senate usually vote with the Democrats. Sixty is considered a supermajority because that is the number needed to cut off any filibuster.
"While it is ultimately up to the people of Massachusetts and their representatives at the State House to decide this matter, Senator Reid agrees with Senator Kennedy and Gov. Patrick that the law should be changed," Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid, told CNN. "With so many important matters to be decided, the people of the Commonwealth need two Senators to represent Massachusetts until the special election."
Reid's office confirms he has discussed the issue with Governor Patrick, who has embraced the appointment idea. Current state law says the seat will remain vacant until a special election is held between 145 and 160 days after the seat became empty - with the clock starting to tick on Wednesday.
Any amendment to state law allowing an interim Senator to be named until the special election first has to be considered by a joint legislative committee which will hold a public hearing. If it receives that panel's recommendation, both houses of the state legislature would need to consider the measure twice.
"I'm hoping the legislature will turn to it soon, and if they send me a bill, I will sign it," Patrick told CNN's American Morning on Thursday.
Before his death, Kennedy sent a letter to the governor and the leaders of the State House and senate uring a change in the law.
"I ... believe it is vital for the Commonwealth to have two voices speaking for the needs of its citizens and two votes in the Senate during the approximately five months between a vacancy and an election," wrote Kennedy. He proposed that any interim Senator be required to vow not to become a candidate in the special election.
Asked if it would be hypocritical to change a law that was introduced under a Republican governor now that a Democrat holds the governorship, House speaker Robert DeLeo said: "That's been one of the issues I've heard. I've also heard from the other folks that leaving this position vacant for a period of time would also be a dangerous thing on behalf of the Commonwealth, that there is still work to be done for us not to have representation in Washington for four, five or six months - whatever it may be."
DeLeo said he is receving e-mails on the issue not just from people throughout the state, but from around the country.
Spokesmen for DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray tell CNN they have not formed a position on the appointment idea.