Angus King, the newly elected independent senator from Maine, announced today that he will caucus with the Democrats in the Senate, a decision he said he made after considerations about how best to protect his independence and how best to serve his constituents.
King, a former Maine governor, said he contemplated eschewing formal affiliation with either party but ultimately decided it would leave him "relegated to the sidelines" except for in extraordinary circumstances of deadlock.
"I established two basic criteria -- that I wanted to maintain my independence as long and as thoroughly as possible while at the same time being effective in my representation of Maine," King told reporters, of his decision-making process. He said that while it was "tempting" to go it alone as an unaffiliated independent, it "simply wouldn't be practical and in fact would severely compromise my ability to be effective on behalf of Maine," particularly because he would likely be excluded from participating on committees and subsequently the day-to-day work of the Senate.
King also noted that because Democrats hold the Senate majority they have more control, more committee positions to fill, and thus, more opportunities for a first-term senator such as himself.
After speaking to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, as well as independent Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., both of whom caucus with Democrats, King said he felt "reassured that my independence would be respected and that no party line commitment would be required or expected" if he chose to caucus with them as well.
"And so I have decided to affiliate myself with the Democratic caucus," he said.
Still, King stressed that he would not be beholden to the party and that he hoped to serve as a "bridge" between Democrats and Republicans.
"By associating myself with one side I am not in automatic opposition to the other," he said.
Following his remarks, Reid joined King at the podium and formally welcomed him into the caucus.
"Senator-elect King represents the best qualities of what a United States senator should be: Number one, he's independent, and number two, he's a man of principle," said Reid. "I welcome him into the caucus."
King's decision, which was largely expected, probably won't be hugely impactful on the Senate's day-to-day governing capabilities: Democrats have slightly increased their narrow majority over Republicans in the chamber thanks to the results of the recent election, but not enough so to create the kind of supermajority that would forestall filibusters. King's vote will not likely tip the scale on votes that fall strictly down party lines, but he could represent a critical swing vote in attempts to pass broader bipartisan efforts.