Sen. Paul Kirk, D-Mass., an interim senator who was handpicked to fill the late Ted Kennedy's seat, vowed Friday to vote for a final version of President Obama's health care bill even if the GOP prevails in a special election next week.
In light of that pledge, and potential administrative hurdles that could stall seating of Kirk's replacement, the Republican candidate for Kennedy's former seat is accusing Democrats of being open to thwarting the will of the people in order to pass the health care bill.
Kirk said he'd have no problem voting for the bill, even if Republican Scott Brown, an opponent of the health care bill, were to be elected by Massachusetts voters but not sworn in until after the Senate's vote.
"It would be my responsibility as United State senator, representing the people and understanding Sen. Kennedy's agenda," Kirk told reporters after addressing the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, the Boston Herald reported.
Brown, a state senator, is squaring off against Democratic nominee and front-runner Martha Cloakley, who is the state's top attorney. Cloakley has pledged to vote for the health care bill if elected.
The swearing-in of Kirk's successor ultimately will be scheduled by the Senate, but not until the state certifies the election.
A spokesman for the state official overseeing the election told the Boston Herald the certification would take a while.
"Because it's a federal election," Brian McNiff, a spokesman for Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, told the newspaper. "We'd have to wait 10 days for absentee and military ballots to come in."
Another source told the newspaper that Galvin's office has said the election won't be certified until Feb. 20.
Brown, who has been closing the gap with Cloakley in polls and fundraising, decried Kirk's comments.
"This is a stunning admission by Paul Kirk and the Beacon Hill political machine," Brown said in a statement to the newspaper. "Paul Kirk appears to be suggesting that he, (Gov.) Deval Patrick, and (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid intend to stall the election certification until the health care bill is rammed through Congress, even if that means defying the will of the people of Massachusetts."
Kirk, a former top aide to Kennedy, was appointed by Patrick in September to temporarily fill the vacancy caused by Kennedy's death.
Kirk became the so-called 60th vote on the divisive health care bill in the Senate, preventing Republicans who oppose the bill from using procedural tactics to block votes.
In his speech Friday, Kirk said health care reform was probably the most significant legislation since Social Security and noted that it had been a passion of Kennedy's for decades. He lashed out at Republicans, saying they made a "political calculation" to stop the bill at any cost and doubted that even Kennedy, famous for his ability to reach across the aisle, could have shaken the GOP opposition.
"At the end of the day, it would have been difficult even for Sen. Kennedy to bring 2-3 Republicans to support this bill," he said.