WASHINGTON (AP) – Interim Minnesota Sen. Dean Barkley announced yesterday he will be an independent during his brief stay in Congress, enabling Democrats to remain in control when the Senate begins a postelection session this week.

As a result of Barkley’s decision, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) will continue in that post when the Senate is gaveled into session today. That means Daschle can decide what bills the Senate debates during the so-called lame-duck meetings of the current Congress, which are expected to run for at least a week.

Democrats currently have a 50-49 edge, including the support they get from the Senate’s other independent, Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont. Had Barkley decided to sit with Republicans, they would have become the majority because Vice President Dick Cheney would have been able to vote to break the resulting 50-50 tie.

Barkley’s press secretary, David Ruth, disclosed the interim senator’s decision in an interview with The Associated Press.

“I am an independent, the governor who appointed me is an independent, and I believe the best way to served the people of Minnesota is to remain independent,” Barkley said later in a written statement.

Barkley was appointed by Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, an independent, to fill the unexpired term of Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) who was killed in a plane crash on Oct. 25. Ten days later, Republican Norm Coleman was elected to the seat for the new Congress that convenes Jan. 7.

Both Daschle and Senate GOP leader Trent Lott of Mississippi have said it makes little difference which of them is majority leader during the lame-duck session, since Congress will have a limited agenda during what will be an abbreviated meeting.

Even so, Barkley, 52, Minnesota’s planning director and founder of Ventura’s Independence Party, had been wooed by GOP and Democratic leaders and telephoned by President Bush in efforts to win his support.

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said the administration “will continue to work with him and other members of Congress to enact our priorities in the lame-duck session.”

Topping Congress’ lame-duck agenda is Bush’s plan to create a new Department of Homeland Security. Yesterday, White House and congressional aides studied a staff-level proposal for ending an impasse over the proposal, which Bush has called the top priority for Congress’ postelection session.

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