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Democrats Strip Arlen Specter of Committee Rank

Wednesday, 06 May 2009 12:21 PM

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Sen. Arlen Specter was unexpectedly stripped of his seniority Tuesday night in a humiliating blow from Democrats who earlier had welcomed the former Pennsylvania Republican’s defection from the GOP.

The move not only strips the five-term senator of his legislative clout but also hampers his ability to persuade voters he can still bring influence to issues in Pennsylvania as he approaches election there in 2010.

Specter lashed back Wednesday, strongly suggesting he had been betrayed.

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Specter said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had promised him that his seniority would be preserved.

“Sen. (Harry) Reid assured me that I would keep my committee assignments and that I would have the same seniority as if I had been elected as a Democrat in 1980,” Specter said. “It was understood that the issue of subcommittee chairmanships would not be decided until after the 2010 election. Some members of the caucus have raised concerns about my seniority, so the caucus will vote on my seniority at the same time subcommittee chairmanships are confirmed after the 2010 election. I am confident my seniority will be maintained under the arrangement I worked out with Sen. Reid.”

Specter added that he would “continue to be a staunch and effective advocate for Pennsylvania¹s and the nation's priorities.”

The likelihood that Specter would lose a Republican primary prompted him to jump to the Democrats. Now, although President Barack Obama has promised to campaign for him, Specter could face a Democratic challenger in that party’s primary. After that, he may be up against former Gov. Tom Ridge, the state’s most popular Republican, in the general election.

The Senate vote stripping him of rank came after Specter made a huge faux pas against his new party when he told The New York Times Tuesday that he hoped Republican Norm Coleman wins the protracted court battle over the Minnesota Senate seat. Democrats want candidate Al Franken to prevail over Coleman so the party can attain a filibuster-proof majority of 60 in the Senate.

Politico reported that Specter has managed to alienate Democrats just a week after his much bally-hooed announcement.

"Since declaring himself a Democrat last Tuesday, Specter has defied Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the White House on virtually everything that’s come down the pike: the budget, mortgage reform, the Al Franken-Norm Coleman race, even President Barack Obama’s appointment of Dawn Johnsen to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel," Politico reported. "All while quibbling over whether he said he’d be a 'loyal Democrat' — and insisting that he had an 'entitlement' to transfer his Senate seniority from one side of the aisle to the other."

Reid read a resolution on the Senate floor Tuesday making Specter the most junior Democrat on four of his five committee assignments. It stood in stark contrast to Reid's alleged promise that Specter would retain his seniority if he switched from the Republican to the Democratic party.

Specter serves on the Appropriations, Judiciary, Veterans Affairs, Environment and Public Works, and Special Aging committees. He had been the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, which is preparing for hearings on a Supreme Court nominee to replace the retiring Justice David Souter.

When Republicans were in the majority, Specter chaired the confirmation hearings for Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. He now will have to wait in line to question the nominee, the Associated Press reported. Specter also was the top Republican on the subcommittee that funds the National Institutes of Health. The issue is a personal one for him because he has twice battled cancer.

The move came only a day after Specter boasted of the power he had through seniority to voters in Pennsylvania.

"My senior position on Appropriations has enabled me to bring a lot of jobs and a lot of federal funding to this state," Specter said at a town hall meeting on Monday, according to CNN.

Over and over, CNN reported, Specter made a point of telling an auditorium filled with medical faculty and staff about the hundreds of millions of dollars he delivered to the Keystone State, thanks to the power he's accumulated in his 29 years in the Senate.

"Pennsylvania has a big interest in my seniority, a big interest," he said.

Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, Specter said that it's an "entitlement" for him to retain his seniority on those committees.

"I was elected in 1980. I think that's not a bribe or a give for something extraordinary," he said. "I'll be treated as a Democrat as if I was elected as a Democrat."

Specter could have a chance to reclaim his seniority on influential committees such as the Appropriations and Judiciary Committees after the 2010 midterm elections, Democrats have suggested.

Perhaps realizing the consequences his Coleman remarks, Specter quickly changed his tune. He told Congressional Quarterly on Tuesday that he would like to see more Democratic members elected in the 2010 midterms.

"In the swirl of moving from one caucus to another, I have to get used to my new teammates," Specter said. "I’m ordinarily pretty correct in what I say. I’ve made a career of being precise. I conclusively misspoke."

But Democrats have not only stripped Specter of his clout, they’ve used his defection from the GOP to attack his former party colleagues. In a new Web ad from the Democratic National Committee, they parody the TV show “Survivor to highlight "the continued disunity" within the GOP.

The final result is that Arlen Specter has betrayed the party that supported him for decades, only to be apparently betrayed by the party that seduced him to defect.

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