Stabbed In the Back: Specter Demoted
The Senate dealt a blow tonight to Sen. Arlen Specter's hold on seniority in several key committees, a week after the Pennsylvanian's party switch placed Democrats on the precipice of a 60-seat majority.In a unanimous voice vote, the Senate approved a resolution that added Specter to the Democratic side of the dais on the five committees on which he serves, an expected move that gives Democrats larger margins on key panels such as Judiciary and Appropriations.
But Democrats placed Specter in one of the two most junior slots on each of the five committees for the remainder of this Congress, which goes through December 2010. Democrats have suggested that they will consider revisiting Specter's seniority claim at the committee level only after the midterm elections next year.
"This is all going to be negotiated next Congress," Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), said tonight.
Specter's office declined to comment.
Without any assurance of seniority, Specter loses a major weapon in his campaign to win reelection in 2010: the ability to claim that his nearly 30 years of Senate service places him in key positions to benefit his constituents.
Tonight's committee resolution, quickly read on the Senate floor by Reid himself, contradicts Specter's assertion last Tuesday when he publicly announced his move from the Republican side of the aisle. He told reporters that he retained his seniority both in the overall chamber and in the committees on which he serves.
Specter said that becoming chairman of the Appropriations Committee was a personal goal of his, one that would be within reach if he were granted his seniority on the panel and placed as the third-most senior Democrat there.
Specter, if granted seniority, would also be next in line to chair the Judiciary Committee behind the current chairman, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.).
Without that seniority, though, Specter, 79, would not even hold an appropriations subcommittee chairmanship in 2011, a critical foothold Specter has used in the past to disperse billions of dollars to Pennsylvania.
When Supreme Court nomination hearings are held later this summer, Specter will be the last senator to ask questions of the eventual nominee -- a dramatically lower profile than in 2005 and 2006, when he chaired the committee and ran the confirmations of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.
Democrats could decide after the 2010 midterms to reward Specter for his move by granting him seniority on committees, but recent precedent has not been kind to such situations. In 2002, for instance, Frank Lautenberg came out of retirement to bail out New Jersey Democrats, agreeing to run in place of the ethically disgraced incumbent, Robert G. Torricelli (D). Lautenberg won a seat that was once thought to be out of reach. But despite his 18 years of prior Senate service, Democrats relegated him to the most junior positions on committees.
Specter, after 43 years as an active Republican, will have to prove his Democratic loyalty over the next 20 months to his colleagues in order to win their support for his seniority. That effort has gotten off to a rocky start following an interview he gave with the New York Times Magazine, to be published this Sunday.
A tip of the hat to Ed Morrissey @ Hot Air
This is not the deal supposedly struck between Senators Reid and Specter. As the story explains, he was supposedly guaranteed his senior status. But the Democrats caught a whiff of that deal last week, and sent a clear message to Senator Reid -- You, sir, do not make decisions for us. They threatened Senator Reid with a nasty backlash on upcoming bills, and Senator Reid balked. Just like Senator Specter switched parties to save his political hide, Senator Reid went along with his caucus to save his political bacon. Birds of a feather, ladies and gentlemen ...
Of course, as Mr. Morrissey points out in his post that this could be the signal to John Sestak to mount a primary challenge against Senator Specter next year. That, in essence, makes sense. Mr. Sestak would be in the same position as Senator Specter is now -- a junior senator.
Senator Specter made a huge mistake jumping into the Democrat camp. He thought he would be welcomed, like Jim Jeffords was, with open arms. He was, after all, putting them one vote shy of a filibuster-proof majority. But the Democrats are not in the rewarding mood until he proves his loyalty to the party. One of the issues that will test him is Card Check. While he maintains that he has not changed his opinion and that he is opposed to it, given the ramped up efforts the unions are going through in Pennsylvania Senator Specter may be in serious trouble if he votes against Card Check. The Democrats could view that as a disloyal act considering the money that is given to them from unions.
Senator Specter is between a rock and a hard place, but it is his doing. The Republicans did nothing to him to cause him to bolt for the other side of the aisle. He was catching heat from his constituents back home, most likely due to his stimulus vote (he was vote #60), and the challengers he was looking at in the Republican primary. Senator Specter probably was haughty enough to think that no one should oppose him. He misses the fact that when your constituents get upset with you, they are bound and determined to be rid of you. His jump to the Democrats took a thorn out of our side, and stuck it in the Democrat's side. But this is how they reward those who help them, and if this is a signal to Mr. Sestak, the Democrats are setting themselves up to deal with that thorn; a thorn they may not need much longer.