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Alabama Democrat Doug Jones might have won a Senate seat, but according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Jones won’t officially take that seat until early January.
With Republicans pushing hard to pass their $1.5 trillion tax bill before Christmas, their opponents cast McConnell’s move as a pure political play.
"This is a flagrant violation of Senate policy, which requires Jones assume office the instant one of them wins the election," said an article on the website Verified Politics. "But the craven majority leader doesn’t want a moral Democrat sabotaging his precious tax scam that steals from the poor to give to the rich."
We looked at the Senate rules, the Senate schedule and the history of special elections. The argument that any delay represents a violation of Senate policy doesn’t hold up.
In fact, when we reached out to Verified Politics, they apologized for the error and changed their article. It now reads, "This is a flagrant violation of the spirit of Senate rules."
That’s quite a shift. While we welcome the correction, our policy is to rate claims as originally stated and to share our research with readers.
McConnell teed up this controversy early on the day of the Dec. 12 special election when he told reporters that no winner would be sworn in before January.
"Sen. (Luther) Strange is going to be here through the end of this session," McConnell said.
Typically, the session ends in December, although it has come as late as Jan. 3. Right now, the plan is to end in December.
Under the Standing Rules of the Senate, a new senator takes the oath of office after the governor and secretary of state from the state certifies the election. That oath takes place during "open Senate." Both the timeline in Alabama and the holidays work against seating Jones immediately.
Alabama law says each county has until the second Friday after a special election to certify the outcome. In this case, that falls on Dec. 22.
After that, the law gives the governor and secretary of state another 10 days to certify the statewide outcome. With Christmas and New Year’s Day as official holidays, that would push the deadline to Jan. 3, 2018. That said, the spokesman for the Alabama Secretary of State told us certification would likely take place around Dec. 28, although the exact timing is uncertain.
So for starters, the delay is on the Alabama end, not in the U.S. Senate.
After that, Jones runs into the problem of the holidays. In theory, the Senate could remain in session between Christmas and New Year’s. Typically, it’s in recess.
While some last-minute turmoil could change that -- involving the tax bill or keeping the government running -- at the moment, it looks like lawmakers will be home for the holidays.
That means lawmakers come back in the first week of January. If Jones weren’t seated at that point, then Democrats would have plenty of reason to object, but that isn’t what McConnell laid out.
There have been 11 special elections since World War II that match Jones’ situation. A speedy placement happened twice. It took one day to seat William Proxmire, D-Wis., in 1957, and two days for John Durkin, D-N.H., in 1975. The longest delay was 41 days for Quentin Burdick, D-N.D., in 1960.
On average, the wait was 15 days. Even if Alabama certified Jones that fast, it would still fall on Dec. 27.
Recent special elections have not run into the holiday recess issue. In February 2010, Scott Brown, R-Mass., was seated 16 days after his election. It took 21 days for Ed Markey, D-Mass., to take the oath of office in July 2013. Cory Booker, D-N.J., waited 15 days in October 2013.
An article in Verified Politics said that anything other than instantly seating Jones would be a flagrant violation of Senate policy.
That is incorrect, and when we brought this to the website’s attention, they dialed back their claim to say seating Jones in January violated the spirit of Senate rules.
Senate rules rely on states to certify election results. Alabama’s process puts certification into the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. If the Senate is in recess, as it nearly always is, then Jones would have to wait until the first week of January.
On average, the delay in seating senators who win special elections is 15 days.
The statement is not accurate. We rate it False.
Verified Politics, Mitch McConnell Vows Not To Seat Democratically Elected Doug Jones Until After Tax Vote, Dec. 13, 2017
U.S. Senate, Standing rules of the Senate,Jan. 24, 2013
Code of Alabama, Making returns to Secretary of State, accessed Dec. 15, 2017
Code of Alabama, Canvassing returns/declaring results, accessed Dec. 15, 2017
U.S. Senate, A chronological list of senators since the First Congress in 1789, accessed Dec. 15, 2017
U.S. Senate, Dates of Sessions of the Congress, accessed Dec. 15, 2017
Forbes, Delaying The Seating Of Senator-Elect Jones Would Be Partisan And Unconstitutional, Dec. 12, 2017
CNN, Will the Senate be working over Christmas recess?, Dec. 17, 2009
CNN, Alabama's Doug Jones may not take office until 2018, Dec. 13, 2017
Email interview, Colin Taylor, managing editor, Occupy Democrats, Dec. 15, 2017
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