Fact check: Law doesn’t let Chafee appoint interim US Senator

It’s a testament to the high regard in which Washington apparently holds Rhode Island’s two U.S. senators, Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, that their names are constantly being floated for high-level Obama administration posts. Just in the past few days there have been suggestions the president could name Reed either defense secretary or CIA director, or Whitehouse attorney general.

It’s extremely unlikely any of that will actually come to pass, because both Reed and Whitehouse really, really like their current jobs and probably can keep them for decades. Why take a cabinet post for a comparatively short time when senator-for-life is an option?

However, one of the arguments against their appointments that’s being floated is incorrect. Here’s Politico:

The problem with pulling [Jack] Reed from the Senate is that the state’s governor is a political independent who could appoint a replacement not as friendly to Obama’s second-term agenda.

Apart from the fact that it’s unlikely Obama campaign co-chair Lincoln Chafee would appoint somebody at odds with the president, Rhode Island governors no longer have the legal power to appoint anyone thanks to a 2010 law enacted by the General Assembly over Governor Carcieri’s veto:

The governor will no longer have the sole power to appoint a replacement if one of Rhode Island’s U.S. senators is unable to complete his or her term, under legislation approved by the General Assembly today over the governor’s veto.

The legislation sponsored by Sen. Paul V. Jabour and Rep. Chris Fierro requires a special election to choose a successor for any U.S. senator from Rhode Island who steps down, dies or is removed from office before the end of his or her term.

The move would eliminate the current process in which the governor appoints a replacement of his or her own choosing to serve on an interim basis until the next scheduled general election. …

The bill (2009-H 5094, 2009-S 0201), which is effective immediately, requires that a special election be held to fill U.S. Senate vacancies, unless such a vacancy occurs after July 1 of an election year. In that case, the vacancy would be filled during the regular general electoral cycle.

Special elections aren’t slam dunks for the dominant party, though, as Republican Scott Brown proved in Massachusetts the same month Rhode Island enacted its Senate vacancy law.

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