Apparently, the only person who really didn’t know which party’s caucus

Angus King would join in the U.S. Senate may have been Maine’s new

senator-elect himself.

While it seemed obvious to both supporters and opponents that King, an

independent, would sit down with the Democrats when it came time to vote

for leadership, King always said he was still struggling with the question.

On Wednesday, King finally announced that he would caucus with the

Democrats, and while that conclusion surprised few, how he says he

reached it may tell us something.

All during the campaign King said he was not sure which party he would

join for organizational purposes, but few believed it.

Republicans didn’t believe it, and called King a closet Democrat. The

national Democratic party didn’t believe it and abandoned its own

nominee to stay out of King’s way.

But as King walked through his thought process on Wednesday, it didn’t

sound as though he had just been playing coy all along.

King repeated that he would have preferred to operate without a party,

joining different coalitions on different issues depending on how he

felt Maine’s best interests were best served. But that would not be

practical, King said, because it would not give him an assignment to a

committee, where most of a legislators’ important work gets done.

And in a telling moment, King said the fact that the Democrats kept

their majority made his decision easy. In a partisan body like the U.S.

Senate, there is little incentive to join the minority. In the rare

instances when senators and members of Congress change parties, it is

almost always to join the majority party.

Had the Republicans taken control of the Senate this year, it is not

difficult to imagine King joining them. During his eight years as

governor, King was nothing if not pragmatic, and there would be very

little advantage gained for him or his state from teaming up with the

election’s losers.

Now, he says he is joining the Democrats, not because of his historical

connection to the party, but because it’s the pragmatic move. Had a few

close Senate races gone the other way, King may well have been

announcing his plan to caucus with the majority Republicans. So when he

said he didn’t know which party he would caucus with, he meant it.

There may not have been much suspense about King’s announcement, but as

a window into how he will make decisions, it has been instructive.