Gay former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who retired after his last term as a U.S. House member on Wednesday, publicly expressed interest in the position of interim U.S. senator on Friday during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and said he’s spoken to Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick about the role.
“I’ve told the governor that I would now like frankly to do that because I would like to be a part of that,” Frank said. “It’s only a three-month period; I wouldn’t want to do anything more. I don’t want to run again.”
Frank noted during the interview that two weeks ago he said he wasn’t interested in the position because it was “kind of like you’re about to graduate, and they said ‘You have to go to summer school,’” but has since changed his mind.
The opportunity for the interim appointment has come up in the wake of President Obama’s announcement that he’ll nominate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as secretary of state. Under Massachusetts law, Patrick will have to select an interim replacement for Kerry, and between 145 and 160 days after Kerry steps down a special election must be held to find a permanent replacement.
Last week, Frank told Politico that he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of accepting the appointment, saying his answer to whether he wants the job was “not a ‘no’ or a ‘yes.’”
In a later interview with the Boston Globe, Frank expanded on his reasons for seeking the position, saying he wants to take part in the talks to stave off major budget cuts to federal programs now that the sequester under the “fiscal cliff” deal has been pushed off two months.
“The first months of the new Senate will be among the most important in American history,” Frank was quoted as saying. “I may be a little immodest, but I called the governor and said I think I can be a help in reaching a fair solution to some of these issues.”
Frank reportedly continued, “I think there are progressive ways to work on Social Security and Medicare. I think making the case against [Tea Party Republicans] on the debt limit is important. A split emerged in the Republican Party over the fiscal cliff, with mainstream Republicans splitting with the radical right. I think it’s important for us to continue to exploit that. We need to reach out to conservative Republicans who nonetheless are willing to compromise, and find a way to reach a deal.”
The Washington Blade reported earlier this week that the cuts under the sequester could impact federal programs relevant to LGBT people and people with HIV/AIDS, potentially placing as many as 12,000 people on the waiting list for assistance under AIDS Drug Assistance Programs.
Patrick hasn’t yet indicated whom he’ll designate for the position. Other names that have emerged in media reports are Vicky Kennedy, the wife of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, and former Democratic presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. A Patrick aide said the governor hasn’t made a decision yet.
Denis Dison, a spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said Frank’s experience as a U.S. House member would make him well-qualified for the position of U.S. senator as Congress approaches budget cuts.
“As a former chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, few people understand better the complexities facing federal lawmakers in the coming months,” Dison said. “Beyond the history-making nature of such an appointment, it would serve the people of Massachusetts well to have someone with his experience and knowledge working on these very tough issues as they choose their next senator.”
If Frank is appointed the role, he would join Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) in the U.S. Senate and would become the second openly gay lawmaker to serve in that chamber.
Frank’s new interest in the role marks a change from the viewpoint he expressed to the the Blade on Monday during an interview in previously unpublished comments.
Asked about his previous comments in Politico, Frank replied, “The only way to deal with that is to ignore it. Ignore the question. Talk about being in awkward situation. I am ignoring that.”
Pressed on whether he had any conversations with Patrick by that time, Frank offered more details and said he was ready to leave Congress.
“I have not had any conversations with the governor,” Frank said. “There’s a couple who’ve said, ‘Gee, you should be a senator. Want me to tell the governor?’ I said, ‘Please do not do that.’ I don’t want anyone doing that. I’m ready to get out of here, and my mind is set for that.”
Frank’s interest in becoming a U.S. senator is noteworthy because he’s come out in opposition to the potential nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as defense secretary based on the former senator’s 1998 anti-gay remarks against James Hormel and his anti-gay voting record. If appointed as a senator, Frank would be in a position to vote against confirming Hagel.