Democratic leaders insisted they planned to press ahead with health reform, and met late into Tuesday night in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. But they made no decisions about how to proceed, now that Brown has swept away the Democrats’ filibuster-proof 60-vote majority in the Senate.
Their options are few, and extremely complex, mostly involving legislative tactics that would be difficult to pull off in the best of circumstances, let alone at a time when members are worried they could be the next Martha Coakley – a seeming Democratic shoo-in laid low, in part, by health reform.
The symbolism of the rejection was difficult to overstate: Kennedy, who held his Senate seat for nearly 47 years, served as a political mentor to Obama and was the patriarch of the Kennedy family's political dynasty. Even before the polls closed at 8 p.m., Obama's top advisers engaged in a public blame game with the campaign of state Attorney General Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate, over who is responsible for the crippling setback to the party.
Brown's late surge was fueled by voter anger about the high unemployment rate and by his vow to block the president's proposal for health-care reform. He drew chants of "41!" during his acceptance speech Tuesday night, symbolic of his role as the 41st member of the Senate GOPcaucus.
"This Senate seat belongs to no one person, to no political party. . . . This is the people's seat," Brown said after an election that drew more than 2 million voters. It was the first U.S. Senate win for a Republican in Massachusetts since 1972.