It’s so far unclear what will happen to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) staffers in the long run, but Senate provisions and a close-knit community ensure they won’t be tossed out onto the street.
Little more than 48 hours after Kennedy’s death from brain cancer, the legendary Senator’s office still bears his nameplate and his staffers are busy handling calls from mournful constituents and reporters.
But in 60 days, the office will close, as outlined by Senate resolutions.
During that time, all the staffers in Kennedy’s personal office will be put on the payroll of the Secretary of the Senate and will help close up shop, said Brian Fallon, spokesman for Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Their work will include basic constituent services and archiving documents, he said, but the office will no longer start new initiatives. During the next two months, the staffers will close up more and more business, finally dissolving at the end of the two-month period.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean Kennedy’s staffers will have to leave the Senate.
Often, staffers of a deceased Member are absorbed by the appointed successor, Associate Senate Historian Betty Koed said. The new Member needs a ready-made staff with the right expertise, and upending an office is usually too time-consuming and unnecessary.
But in Kennedy’s case, the situation is complicated by the unknown. In 2004, Massachusetts lawmakers voted to change a state law that allowed the governor to appoint a temporary placeholder. A special election likely won’t be held until January, leaving Kennedy’s seat empty for more than four months.
But shortly before he died, Kennedy sent a letter to state legislators urging them to change the law to allow Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick to make a temporary appointment.
The Legislature might take up the issue when it goes back into session after Labor Day — and if Massachusetts does change its succession law again, staffers are likely to keep their positions at least until the special election.
If the office is forced to close, however, staffers will have to find jobs elsewhere. Still, they might be in luck: In the past, Senators have scrambled to find jobs for the employees of deceased Members.
“A lot of them get absorbed into other Members’ staff — in particular senior staffers,— Koed said.
As the third-longest-serving Senator ever, Kennedy had a wide network of friends and colleagues inside and outside the Senate. Several sources guessed that his reputation — and that of his experienced staff — might spark efforts to help his office.
Kennedy’s staff on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is similarly safe-guarded. Though the new chairman could replace Kennedy’s entire committee staff, that is unlikely and Senate resolutions ensure severance pay for up to 60 days for committee staffers who are let go.
But many — if not most — of Kennedy’s committee staff probably won’t go anywhere. Kennedy’s death means a new chairman, but his successor will likely keep on his health care staffers, who have years of experience and are well-respected, at a time when health care remains issue No. 1 in Washington.
Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) — the No. 2 Democrat who managed the committee during Kennedy’s battle with cancer — said Wednesday that the late Senator’s staff will continue to play a key role in forming a health care reform bill.