Barney Frank wants to be a senator. Is that a good thing or bad? (+video)

In media interviews Friday, just-retired Rep. Barney Frank said he'd like the Massachusetts governor to appoint him as an interim senator. In his 16 terms in the House, he had both highs and lows.

By , Staff writer

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    Retiring Rep. Barney Frank (D) of Massachusetts talks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 3, prior to the start of the 113th Congress. Frank said he'd like the Massachusetts governor to appoint him as an interim senator.
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Barney Frank says he wants to be a US senator. Is that a good thing or bad?

Let’s back up and fill in the background here, shall we? Representative Frank (D) of Massachusetts just retired after 16 terms in the House. For 32 years, he’s been pretty much the sharpest-tongued person on Capitol Hill, as well as cantankerous, intelligent, irritating, effective, and outrageous, often all at the same time. He once summed himself up this way: “I’m a left-handed gay Jew. I’ve never felt automatically a member of any majority."

He’s had low moments. In 1990, the House voted to reprimand him for fixing parking tickets for a live-in aide who was also a male prostitute. Republicans consider him the definition of a tax-and-spend liberal.

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He’s also had highs. As chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, he helped write the 2010 Dodd-Frank act of financial-institution reforms. The left wing of the Democratic Party considers him a hero.

In the past, he insisted he was leaving Congress for good. He demurred even after President Obama tapped Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts as the nominee for secretary of State, opening up an interim Senate seat. Frank said he was just too bone tired for the job.

That’s now a nonoperative position. In a number of media interviews Friday, Frank said he’d like Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) to appoint him to Senator Kerry’s seat as interim senator until the Bay State could hold a special election later this year.

The reason for this change of heart? The first months of the Senate session will be chock-full o' nuts with interesting issues, what with the debt-limit fight, the sequester fight, and so on, all occurring at once. Frank said it might be “immodest,” but he believes his experience would help the Democratic Party at a crucial time. (He said he wouldn’t run for a full term. But who knows?)

“I think there are progressive ways to work on Social Security and Medicare. I think making the case against them [tea party Republicans] on the debt limit is important,” he told The Boston Globe on Friday. “A split emerged in the Republican Party over the fiscal cliff, with mainstream Republicans splitting with the radical right. I think it’s important for us to continue to exploit that. We need to reach out to conservative Republicans who nonetheless are willing to compromise and find a way to reach a deal.”

Hmm. We’ve got a few thoughts on this matter, unsurprisingly. The first is obvious: This is going to drive conservatives bonkers. Most interim senators are worthy placeholders who don’t engage much in partisan politics. (See “Sen. Paul Kirk (D) of Massachusetts, 2009-2010”). Sen. Barney Frank, on the other hand, would not be there just to keep the office lights on.

“The narcissism of the Beltway barnacle, it burns,” wrote right-leaning pundit Michelle Malkin after the news broke.

(Frank would be the first to point out that Ms. Malkin is mixing metaphors like she’s making soup.)

Second, has anybody heard from Governor Patrick about this? Frank has kind of put him on the spot. Maybe he (Patrick) has somebody else in mind. Can he afford to peeve the liberal wing of the state party? What would a Senate delegation composed of Frank and newly elected Elizabeth Warren try to do? If Republican Scott Brown wants to try to regain his just-lost Senate seat, he might benefit from being able to campaign against the dynamic duo of liberals.

Third, they're probably not holding a party in the White House mess to celebrate “Barney’s Back Day.” Frank is a committed opponent of possible Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel, because of the latter’s past impolitic statements about Jews and gays. (Mr. Hagel has since apologized for those words.)

Plus, as a progressive icon, Frank would be unlikely to applaud any deal the White House might try to strike with the GOP over Medicare or Social Security reforms. He might make any “grand bargain” harder to strike, from Mr. Obama’s point of view.

The debates would be more fun, though. This is a legislator who told a constituent at a 2009 town-hall meeting on health care that “trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to have an argument with a dining-room table.”

And that was a voter! Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell might need to work on developing a thicker skin if Frank’s appointment comes through.

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