WASHINGTON - Norm Coleman said Friday that Senate Democratic leaders reneged on a deal to let his staff finish up constituent cases, leaving hundreds of Minnesotans "in the dark."
Jim Manley, spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said there was no such deal and that Democrats hands are tied because Coleman's Senate term ended last Saturday.
Coleman has sought to let his staff work on some 400 remaining constituent cases while he challenges the U.S. Senate recount in Minnesota, in which Democrat Al Franken had a 225-vote advantage. The legal contest is expected to last several months.
Senate Democrats forced Coleman to shut down his office on Monday, the same day the state Canvassing Board certified Franken the top vote-getter in the election. Coleman's Senate website has been frozen, and the nameplate on his office has been removed.
Normally, departing senators use the two months between Election Day and the end of their terms on Jan. 3 to finish up constituent work.
With the election contest still pending, Coleman said that Democrats had agreed to give his staff more time for casework, which involves requests for help with veterans' benefits, Social Security, Medicare, immigration, adoption and passport problems.
"This isn't about me or my position," Coleman said. "We're in the customer service business, and the customers are getting hurt."
He said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has been trying to win Senate passage of a resolution that would keep Coleman's office open for non-legislative business. According to Coleman and a spokesman for McConnell, an agreement had been reached in recent weeks with Reid.
"There was a clear understanding," Coleman said. But as of Friday, the fourth day of the 111th Congress, no resolution had been brought up for a vote.
Republicans charged that the Democrats' turnaround is part of an effort to pressure Coleman to drop his electoral challenge, something that Reid has been urging him to do.
"It is outrageous that Senate Democrats engaged in partisan games are preventing Senator Coleman's staff from doing critical constituent casework," said Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Ron Carey. "Harry Reid should work with Senator McConnell to come to an agreement to allow these Minnesotans to have their cases resolved."
Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar, currently the state's sole U.S. senator, has offered to take over some of Coleman's caseload.
But Coleman said his cases cannot readily be transferred to another senator because they typically involve confidentiality agreements. Coleman's staffers -- who have lost access to their offices -- would need to obtain permission from each constituent seeking help.
Coleman said he still hopes a resolution can be worked out and brought to the Senate for a vote.
The idea of a prospective resolution was confirmed Monday by Howard Gantman, the staff director for the Senate Rules Committee. But Coleman said the "dynamics changed" after the state Canvassing Board certified the results showing Franken ahead and the Democrats declared victory.
Since then, Reid has been calling for Coleman to concede and has been looking for ways to seat Franken as soon as possible.
Kevin Diaz • 202-408-2753