Stevens likely to face cold Senate reception

IF ELECTED: GOP cohorts call for senator to step down after guilty verdict.

November 8, 2008 

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Ted Stevens may not have the warmest of welcomes from fellow Republicans when he returns to the Senate later this month for Congress' lame duck session.

No matter what the outcome of Stevens' still undecided election, some Republican senators are concerned about welcoming a convicted felon back into the Republican conference come Nov. 18, when the Senate returns to Washington, D.C.

They include Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who was among those to call for Stevens to step down in the wake of the Alaska Republican's Oct. 27 conviction on seven felony counts of failing to report gifts and services, including renovations that doubled the size of his Alaska home. DeMint's fellow Republican from South Carolina, Sen. Lindsey Graham, called on Stevens to step down, too, as did Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Since his conviction, Stevens, 84, has continued to maintain his innocence and says he "has not been convicted of anything." Stevens, who is appealing the jury verdict, has been relying on the technical definition of "conviction," which doesn't take effect until sentencing. Stevens' sentencing has been postponed pending the appeal of his conviction.

DeMint's spokesman said that the South Carolina senator would prefer to see Stevens removed from the GOP Senate conference, which would keep Stevens from representing the Republican Party and also strip him of all committee assignments. Currently, Stevens continues to sit on committees, including the Commerce and Appropriations committees, but has lost his leadership posts on them.

Republicans should "be the first to act by expelling Stevens from the GOP conference and not assigning him any committees," said Wesley Denton, a spokesman for DeMint. "We should clean our own house first."

Stevens' staff did not respond to a request to comment on this story Friday.

Any move on ousting Stevens from the conference would probably be up to the Republican leader of the Senate, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. A decision would need to be made Tuesday so that senators have a week to consider an ouster before they return on Nov. 18 to vote on it.

McConnell has said that if Stevens is re-elected and "the felony charge stands through the appeals process, there is zero chance that a senator with a felony conviction would not be expelled from the Senate."

The top Democrat in the Senate, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, has also indicated he has no interest in a convicted felon serving in the Senate. If re-elected, Stevens will face either an Ethics Committee investigation or expulsion, Reid said, regardless of any appeal.

However, Stevens still doesn't know whether he has been re-elected. Alaska election officials continue to count votes in the contest between Stevens and Democrat Mark Begich, the mayor of Anchorage. State election officials estimate there are almost 63,000 untallied absentee and early votes as well as more than 18,000 questionable ballots to examine. They have until Friday to finish their count. Right now, Stevens leads by 3,353 votes.

If Stevens is re-elected, it's likely some senators would try to force a vote to expel him from the Senate, an unprecedented move that takes a two-thirds vote of the body. Four other senators have been convicted of crimes in office, and of those, two resigned, one died and one saw his term expire before an expulsion vote could be held.

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