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President calls interim senator

From John King
CNN Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush called interim Sen. Dean Barkley of Minnesota Tuesday to offer congratulations and any White House assistance as the independent prepares for a lame-duck session of Congress.

Barkley was named by Gov. Jesse Ventura as the interim senator for the seat held by the late Paul Wellstone who was killed in a plane crash last month.

Barkley's tenure is certain to be short-lived. Former Vice President Walter Mondale and former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman competed for the seat in Tuesday's elections.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota also has been trying to reach Barkley, but so far without success.

Senate GOP Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi spoke with Barkley Monday and offered his new colleague whatever services the Republicans can provide, a spokesman said.

Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, who left the Republican Party and is the Senate's only other independent, called Barkley Monday.

When for his advice, Jeffords told Barkley not to make any commitments on which party he may vote with, a spokesman for Jeffords told CNN. The two men plan to meet next week.

The White House is pushing to enact several pieces of legislation during the lame-duck session, and Barkley's vote could be important because of the narrow partisan divide in the Senate.

Terrorism insurance and the proposed new Department of Homeland Security are two Bush priorities for the lame-duck session.

White House aides familiar with the call said Bush did not seek any commitments from Barkley in their brief conversation, but that follow-up conversations with White House officials are likely over the next several days.

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