BOSTON – Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown changed course and demanded he be sworn in to replace the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy on Thursday, an accelerated timetable that conservatives had been clamoring for and one that Democrats quickly accepted — and had already been moving to accommodate.
Brown said he wanted to be present for unspecified votes, and his swearing-in would give the GOP 41 votes in the Senate — the precise number it needs to sustain a filibuster of Democratic initiatives.
Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, said he expected a ceremony at 5 p.m. Thursday.
"If that's what he wants to do, I expect he'll be sworn in as early as (Thursday) afternoon," Manley said.
The demand reversed Brown's earlier declaration that he did not want to be sworn in until Feb. 11, a grace period he said he needed to hire a staff and prepare for his new responsibilities. That timetable was reitered Tuesday morning on Brown's Facebook page.
The change also followed criticism from conservative radio hosts and newspaper columnists about what one dubbed a "three-week victory lap" since the state senator staged an upset to win the Jan. 19 special election to replace Kennedy, who died of brain cancer. The conservative-leaning Drudge Report immediately linked to Brown's demand letter, generating such traffic that would-be readers could not open it.
"While Sen.-elect Brown had tentatively planned to be sworn into office on Feb. 11, he has been advised that there are a number of votes scheduled prior to that date. For that reason, he wants certification to occur immediately," Brown counsel Daniel Winslow wrote in a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat.
"As he is the duly elected U.S. senator from the commonwealth of Massachusetts, he is entitled to be seated now," Winslow added.
The attorney demanded action by 11 a.m. Thursday, so the certification could be forwarded to Senate officials in time for Brown to be sworn in Thursday afternoon.
Hours earlier, Secretary of State William F. Galvin delivered official copies of the election results to the Governor's Council. And Patrick's staff announced the governor would sign Brown's election certificate in the council's presence — as is required by law — during a ceremony at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
After Winslow released his letter, the governor reiterated his plan to hold a mid-morning ceremony.
"This will ensure that Sen.-elect Brown's request to receive the final paperwork by 11 a.m. tomorrow is fulfilled," Patrick spokesman Kyle Sullivan said in a statement.
One vote where Brown would make a difference is the Senate's consideration of union lawyer Craig Becker to become a member of the National Labor Relations Board.
Republicans — led by Arizona Sen. John McCain, who endorsed Brown's candidacy — have held up Becker's confirmation for months. They say Becker might use the post to make labor laws more union-friendly without congressional approval.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups have actively opposed Becker, suggesting his views are "out of the mainstream."
But he was renominated earlier this year, and a Senate committee was expected to send his nomination to the full Senate on Thursday. Democrats would need 60 votes to bypass a GOP hold and push the nomination through.
Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, said Tuesday that Democrats would move a vote on Becker "as expeditiously as possible on the floor."
Brown upset Democrat Martha Coakley to win a Senate seat held by Kennedy for more than a half-century.
As pre-election polls showed him with a chance of winning, Brown complained when Galvin — a Democrat — said it would take him several weeks to certify the results because of a state law requiring a 10-day waiting period to receive absentee ballots. There also is an additional five-day waiting period for cities and towns to send him their official results.
On Jan. 20, Galvin sought to defuse the situation by sending the Senate clerk a letter saying it appeared Brown had won the election. Similar documents had previously allowed newly elected members of the House to be sworn in.
Yet officials in the Senate, similarly controlled by Democrats, said they needed an official certification from the governor before scheduling a ceremony with Vice President Joe Biden, who serves as president of the Senate.
Reid and President Barack Obama lessened any need for an immediate ceremony when they pledged to withhold any votes on the president's proposed health care overhaul until Brown was seated.