Senate Dems shouldn’t start throwing elbows

Bipartisanship has a pulse on Capitol Hill, judging from the positive reception President-elect Barack Obama got there Monday, particularly from Republican leaders who seemed cautiously supportive of Obama’s still-in-progress economic stimulus plan.

That’s important to Obama’s success, and not just because he campaigned on a pledge to foster a new, more civil way of doing business in Washington, D.C. Even though his Democratic Party controls the House and Senate, the potential magnitude of his pending proposals on the economy, health care and energy will require broad public buy-in. The first step toward that is bipartisan support in Congress.

Democratic leaders in the Senate would do well to remember that political goodwill is fragile. They hold it within their power to keep the agenda focused on crafting a strong, effective, bipartisan legislative agenda. They could also derail things if they start throwing political elbows on behalf of Democrat Al Franken, who on Monday won the latest round of the disputed Minnesota Senate election.

Nothing starts a partisan brawl faster than a contested election. (See Gore vs. Bush, 2000, and Rossi vs. Gregoire, 2004.) The Senate Democratic leadership, which includes Washington’s Patty Murray, should steer far away from a confrontation on this issue. That may seem obvious, but remember, these are politicians. It’s their nature to run toward a fight.

This would be the wrong one to pick. Minnesota’s state canvassing board on Monday certified Franken as a 225-vote winner over Republican incumbent Norm Coleman (out of some 2.9 million votes cast), but Coleman vowed to contest that result, launching a process that could take months.

Given the canvassing board’s decision, Franken has the advantage. But in an election that’s essentially a statistical tie, the judicial process must be respected and allowed to play out.

Still, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid couldn’t resist taking precisely the wrong approach Monday. “The race in Minnesota is over,” he crowed after the canvassing board’s ruling, deriding Coleman’s plan to challenge it as “only a little finger pointing.”

Senate Democrats have already let themselves be distracted by the fight over who will fill Obama’s Senate seat from Illinois. They should be careful not to create another sideshow, especially one that could siphon all the bipartisan spirit out of the chamber.

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FILE — In this Sept. 17, 2020 file photo, provided by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Chelbee Rosenkrance, of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, holds a male sockeye salmon at the Eagle Fish Hatchery in Eagle, Idaho. Wildlife officials said Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, that an emergency trap-and-truck operation of Idaho-bound endangered sockeye salmon, due to high water temperatures in the Snake and Salomon rivers, netted enough fish at the Granite Dam in eastern Washington, last month, to sustain an elaborate hatchery program. (Travis Brown/Idaho Department of Fish and Game via AP, File)
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