New snag for Senate financial regulations bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin on Wednesday put off naming a successor to the late Senator Robert Byrd, which could further complicate passage of financial reform legislation in the U.S. Senate .

The U.S. Capitol building is seen before the start of President Barack Obama's primetime address to a joint session of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 24, 2009. REUTERS/Jim Young

Manchin told reporters he wants the state’s attorney general to render an opinion on the state election law, which is thought to forbid an election to fill Byrd’s unexpired term until 2012. He said he hoped the opinion would come next week.

“I will not move forward on this appointment or the succession process ... until the attorney general’s opinion is rendered,” Manchin said.

A delay in naming a replacement for Byrd, a Democrat, could complicate Democratic efforts to pass the overhaul of financial regulations, an important priority for President Barack Obama.

Democrats are several votes short of the 60 they need to advance legislation in the 100-seat chamber.

Without a reliable Democratic vote in Byrd’s former seat, backers of the overhaul will probably have to win the support of at least three moderate Republicans.

Republican senators Susan Collins and Scott Brown backed an earlier version of the legislation and have indicated over the past week that they may support the final version, which has already passed the House of Representatives.

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Two other Republicans senators who backed an earlier version, Olympia Snowe and Charles Grassley, have not indicated how they will vote.

Manchin said he wanted the state to hold a special election soon for a replacement to fill Byrd’s seat. The Democratic governor, who said he would not appoint himself as interim senator, did say he would be interested in running for the seat in a special election.

Once the attorney general makes his ruling on the election law, Manchin said he would speak with state legislators about the process.

If a decision is made to hold a special election, Manchin said he would make an appointment for an interim senator to hold the seat until the election.

Reporting by Deborah Charles and Andy Sullivan; Editing by David Storey