WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Sunday that Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska cannot remain a senator even if he's re-elected Tuesday because he's a convicted felon.
Stevens, 84, was convicted last week in federal court on seven felony counts of failing to report gifts and services, including renovations that doubled his Alaska home in size. Since his conviction, Stevens has continued to campaign for re-election, even as he maintains 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. His sentencing has been postponed pending his appeal.
Stevens, who's served in the Senate since 1968, faces his most difficult re-election bid ever on Tuesday against Democrat Mark Begich, the mayor of Anchorage.
Reid's statement came in response to a press release issued Saturday night by the Stevens' campaign. In it, Stevens trumpets the claims of his longtime friend, Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, who testified as a character witness in Stevens' corruption trial.
Stevens, Inouye said in the press release, "will retain his Senate seat while the legal process moves forward."
"As the Senate has done in every other instance in its long 220-year history, I am absolutely confident that Ted Stevens will be sworn into the Senate while he appeals this unjust verdict," Inouye said. "I am certain that this decision in Washington, D.C., will be overturned on appeal."
Not so, said Reid, D-Nev.
"While I respect the opinion of Senator Daniel Inoyue, the reality is that a convicted felon is not going to be able to serve in the United States Senate," Reid said. "And as precedent shows us, Senator Stevens will face an Ethics Committee investigation and expulsion, regardless of his appeals process. This is not a partisan issue and it is unfortunate that Senator Stevens has used his longtime friendship with Senator Inouye for partisan political gain."
Reid said that Stevens need look no further than the comments made by Stevens' fellow Republicans, including Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who said there would be "zero tolerance" for a convicted felon in the United States Senate.
Reid also referred to statements made by the head of the committee charged with re-electing Republican senators, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nevada. Ensign said he was "disappointed to see his career end in disgrace."
If that's not enough, Reid said, consider what Republican presidential candidate John McCain, a fellow senator, said: Stevens has "broken his trust with the people and should now step down." His running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, also has called on Stevens to step down.