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Senate GOP May Punt on Stevens

With their leadership elections little more than coronations and their committee assignments to be determined later, Senate Republicans hope to get through today’s Conference organizational meeting with as little drama as possible and could decide to punt on the thorniest question — whether to formally expel Sen. Ted Stevens (Alaska) from their ranks.

Although Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.), who has proposed expelling Stevens from the Republican Conference and stripping him of his committee assignments, remained confident Monday that his colleagues would oust the longest-serving Republican, others said they were less certain.

Technically, GOP Conference rules require that the motion be seconded by another Senator. While a DeMint aide predicted the proposal would receive a second, he declined to specify who the lawmaker would be. Additionally, several leadership aides said no other lawmaker has stepped forward, either publicly or privately, to formally support the vote, and with Stevens’ election still undecided, many feel the vote should not be taken.

Republicans have remained tight-lipped on how they would vote if the Stevens proposal is forced.

Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) would not say whether there would be a vote today to oust Stevens from the party or how he would vote on the motion to give the 84-year-old the boot from the GOP. But Bond pointed out that votes are still being counted in the Alaska Senate race. “The election is not over. The election is not over,” he said.

“Obviously, if [DeMint] makes a big stink out of it, they’ll vote on this,” one leadership aide said while cautioning that Members could try to get DeMint to agree to a later vote on his proposal should it be necessary.

Several aides said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has decided to hold off on making committee assignments until after the elections in Alaska, Georgia and Minnesota are completed, which could take until next year. McConnell, who in the interim will ask all members of his Conference to provide him with their top three committee slots, also is unwilling to make final decisions on committees until a decision on budgeting is reached.

Republicans are bracing for a fight with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) over the breakdown of committee budgets. While McConnell would likely accept a proportional split on money, splitting funding for staff and resources in a two-thirds to one-third ratio or some other significant cut to GOP budgets will likely raise strong opposition.

With the committee assignments in flux for the Republican Conference, several aides predicted Monday that many lawmakers may be more comfortable putting off the decision to oust Stevens until then.

If DeMint agrees to postpone the vote or if no one agrees to second the motion, it could allow Senate Republicans to escape today’s session with a minimal amount of political intrigue.

Unlike their House GOP counterparts who have seen a shake-up of their leadership team and several contested races, today’s Senate “elections” are little more than affirmations for the candidates, with most of McConnell’s leadership team remaining in place.

McConnell will be unanimously re-elected, as will Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.).

Sen. John Ensign (Nev.) will move from the National Republican Senatorial Committee to chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, while Sen. John Thune (S.D.) will replace Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) as Republican Conference Vice Chairman.

Cornyn, who originally faced a race against Sen. Norm Coleman (Minn.) to take over at the NRSC, had his path cleared when Coleman, whose re-election is still being decided, pulled out last week.

Although who will formally nominate and second McConnell is unclear, Republicans said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) will nominate Kyl and second Thune to his position.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) will nominate Thune.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) will nominate Cornyn, and Collins will second the nomination.

Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) will nominate Alexander, while Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) is expected to second him.

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