WASHINGTON — Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska may not have the warmest of welcomes from fellow Republicans when he returns to the Senate later this month for Congress' lame-duck session.
No matter the outcome of Stevens' still undecided election, some Republican senators are concerned about welcoming a convicted felon back into the Republican conference come Nov. 18, when the Senate returns for a post-election session in Washington.
They include Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who was among those to call for Stevens to step down in the wake of the Alaska Republican's Oct. 27 conviction on seven felony counts of failing to report gifts and services, including renovations that doubled the size of his Alaska home.
DeMint's fellow Republican from South Carolina, Sen. Lindsey Graham, called on Stevens to step down, too, as did Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Since his conviction, Stevens, 84, has maintained 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. Stevens' sentencing has been postponed pending the appeal of his conviction.
DeMint's spokesman, Wesley Denton, said the South Carolina senator would prefer to see Stevens be removed from the GOP Senate conference, which would keep Stevens from representing the Republican Party and also strip him of all committee assignments. Currently, Stevens continues to sit on committees, including the Commerce and Appropriations committees, but he's lost his leadership posts on them.
Republicans should "be the first to act by expelling Stevens from the GOP conference and not assigning him any committees," Denton said. "We should clean our own house first."
Any move on ousting Stevens from the conference would probably be up to the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. A decision would need to be made Tuesday, so that senators have a week to consider an ouster before they return on Nov. 18 to vote on it.
McConnell has said that if Stevens is re-elected and "the felony charge stands through the appeals process, there is zero chance that a senator with a felony conviction would not be expelled from the Senate."
The top Democrat in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, has also indicated he has no interest in a convicted felon serving in the Senate.
However, Stevens still doesn't know whether he's been re-elected. Alaska election officials continue to count votes in the contest between Stevens and Democrat Mark Begich, the mayor of Anchorage.
If Stevens is re-elected, it's likely that some senators would try to force a vote to expel him from the Senate, an unprecedented move that takes a two-thirds vote. Four other senators have been convicted of crimes in office. Of those, two resigned, one died and one saw his term expire before an expulsion vote could be held.
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