Barney Frank wants a shot at breaking up boring Senate quorum calls and sparring with Republicans over looming budget battles with a second political act as an interim senator from Massachusetts, but if he thinks he'll transform the upper chamber, he might want to think again. The five or six months of an interim term just isn't enough time to move legislative mountains.
Frank, known for his verbal lashings, acute political sense, and deep policy knowledge, said on Friday on Morning Joe that the fiscal-cliff debate that will continue over the next few months is, essentially, too significant to go on without him.
"A few weeks ago said, I said I wasn't interested. It was kind of like, you're about to graduate, and they said, you've got to go to summer school. But that [fiscal-cliff] deal now means that February, March, and April are going to be among the most important months in American financial history," he said.
But the short timeframe Frank would have to work with—the election to permanently fill the seat would have to happen 145 to 160 days after the appointment, meaning Frank, or whoever, would have till about June—wouldn't be enough time to exert too much influence.
Interim senators are not necessarily remembered for their lasting contributions. Three recent short-term senators, Ted Kaufman of Delaware, Roland Burris of Illinois, and Paul Kirk of Massachusetts, stayed barely long enough to get their members pins. Kirk had the politically important duty of voting for the Affordable Care Act for the Democrats, but beyond that he is also remembered for his controversial endorsement of Martha Coakley, who lost to now-former Republican Sen. Scott Brown. It was controversial because of a nonbinding resolution that suggested he remain neutral in the race.
Kaufman, 73, was appointed to fill Vice President Joe Biden's vacant Senate seat in 2009 and said in an interview that, at his age, the interim Senate appointment was more about serving out the term than effecting any great political change.
"For me it was a very easy decision. Either be a senator for two years and just be a senator or … spend a lot of my time strategizing," he said.
Burris was tapped by former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich for President Obama's former seat, a decision wrapped in controversy amid allegations that the governor sought favors in exchange for the appointment. Under pressure, he decided not to run for the seat.
In Frank's case, it's far from certain that he would even get the nod because aides to Democratic Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said he doesn't want to appoint a "luminary," The Boston Globe reported. Still, it's hard to argue that there is much more outspoken candidate than Frank.
"Barney would use it as a bully pulpit, and that's what he's really good at," Kaufman said.