Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Specter Defection Leaves Committee in Flux at Crucial Time

By Paul Kane

Sen. Arlen Specter's party-switching move is having even greater reverberations throughout the Senate, now that Supreme Court Justice David Souter is poised to retire this summer.

For all his moderate stances Specter had been a loyal Republican soldier for the last 4-½ years as chairman and then ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. Republicans are in a slight scramble to figure out who will now assume the top post on that panel, the high-profile role of leading the opposition to Souter's successor.

Democrats have their own problems to overcome. They have to figure out a way around the complex committee ratio formula that was approved earlier this year in a Senate resolution, which set the Judiciary Committee at 11 Democrats and eight Republicans. As of now, there's no room for Specter to join their side of the dais on Judiciary. Rest assured, if there's a Supreme Court confirmation hearing, Specter wants to be in the middle of it.

Most recently Specter led the confirmation hearings for Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito in 2005 and 2006. He often let Democrats do whatever they wanted, allowing them to politically hang themselves with their own rope - such as the time then-Sen. Joseph Biden went well over his time limit, spending more than 10 minutes talking to Alito but never once really asking him a question.

Or, when Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) demanded a stop to the proceedings to allow staff to research records of an alumni group at Princeton University, Specter willingly obliged. Hours later staff returned to let the committee know there was no evidence of Alito playing any real role in the group, nor anything much controversial about the group.

In an odd twist the man most likely to replace Specter as the top Republican on Judiciary is Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), whose early career ambition was not elected politics. A federal prosecutor in Alabama, Sessions was nominated in 1986 by Ronald Reagan to be a U.S. District Court judge, but Sessions was accused of having a racially insensitive attitude. The line of attack was led by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Biden, who GOP senators accused of using the nomination fight to appeal to interest groups in advance of his1988 presidential campaign.

Specter also opposed Sessions, whose nomination was dealt a final blow when his home-state senator, the late Howell Hefflin (D-Ala.), turned against him. A decade later Sessions exacted his revenge on Hefflin when he won his Senate seat in 1996 and then got appointed to the Judiciary Committee.

"There's life after non-confirmation," Sessions told Roll Call in January 2001, during another heated confirmation battle, John Ashcroft's ascension to attorney general. "It's amazing to be back here, on this committee. It amazes me. There's no place I'd rather be."

Sessions is a much more ideological conservative than Specter, but he is not considered as sharp a questioner as the Pennsylvanian. That's part of the reason why there are some murmurs among GOP staff that maybe one of the more veteran Republicans on the committee would instead take over as ranking member.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) is already the ranking member of the Finance Committee and is deep into negotiations with Democrats on health-care legislation. But he has enough seniority to take over at Judiciary and has been open about his desire to become ranking member of Judiciary at the end of this Congress in 2011. Republicans adhere strongly to seniority, so Grassley could grab Judiciary now if he wants to; he is considering the move and likely to make a decision soon, aides said.

Sessions, whose aunt died recently, has been home in Alabama most of this week. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has not scheduled a GOP meeting to hash out these issues.

The Democratic problem is just as confusing. Republican aides have strongly hinted that they have no plans to accept a new ratio on Judiciary that simply flips Specter onto the Democratic side of the dais, which would give Democrats a 12-7 edge. (That would represent a 63% margin of seats on the committee, above the 59% total of seats Democrats currently hold in the entire Senate.)

Reid and McConnell have yet to hold any serious talks about how to move Specter onto the Democratic side of Judiciary, as well as the other committees on which he serves. If they keep the 11-8 edge at Judiciary, Reid would be forced to either tell Specter he can't serve on the panel - or bump one of his junior members from the committee.

The most likely targets would be Sens. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) or Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), both of whom lend important expertise to the committee. Kaufman was Biden's top staffer for years, including the stretch when Biden chaired the panel, and this Supreme Court nomination process would be the highest profile issue Kaufman ever handles in the two years he has agreed to serve as Biden's replacement until a full-time successor is chosen by Delaware's voters in 2010.

And Klobuchar, a former prosecutor, is a rising star in the party, was an early supporter of Obama's and - just as important - is one of just two women on the 19-senator committee.

This leaves Reid and McConnell in awkward, delicate balancing acts that could determine a great deal of how the next Supreme Court nomination process plays out.

By Paul Volpe  |  May 1, 2009; 11:59 AM ET
Categories:  Senate  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Today on the Hill
Next: Today on the Hill


It seems to me the easiest solution is to add one additional member to each side. Specter would move to Democratic side, while his vacancy and one additional slot would be filled by member of the Republican caucus. The GOP couldn't object too much to this since they would actually increase their proportional representation. The old ratio: 8 of 19 was 42%, while the new ratio 9 of 21 I suggest would be give the GOP 43%.

Posted by: donmarlais | May 1, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Hilarious. Maybe Souter wasn't as much of turn-coat as some people thought, i.e. he waited for Specter to jump ship before he did. I bet Specter feels like a 175 lb trd.

Posted by: flintston | May 1, 2009 1:50 PM | Report abuse

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Specter said he received polling data late last week that showed his prospects for re-election would be "bleak" if he remained a Republican.

So much for his switch meaning much to the conservatives in the Republican party!

Posted by: NeverLeft | May 1, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

So the republicans are happy that the only power they have is to slow down the process of picking a replacement supreme court member?

And they are not the party of "no"?

Posted by: Independent4tw | May 1, 2009 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Republicans are rapidly becoming a party of has-beens and "no, no, no." Out of date and out of touch they are becoming like the dinosaurs....
When will they become extinct because they have outlived their usefulness and viability.

Posted by: abby0802 | May 1, 2009 2:47 PM | Report abuse

I'm always happy to know ours is not a rubber-stamp government, although it seems that some would rather it be that way, i.e. all branches of government being of the same party. Thank the Lord that some level of dissent was engineered into our constitution. Single-party rule is nothing more than a dictatorship in disguise.

Posted by: flintston | May 1, 2009 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Despite Specter's clever honesty, his motive for defecting is neither pure nor serves the obama change agender.

For this reason, Specter should still be regarded as GOP until he pay his dues as DEM. If Specter cannot support DEM's budget, Supreme court nomininee, DEM platforms, WHAT GOOD IS SPECTER THEN???

I hope Reid should not be too gullible to bump and commonsense junior senator for an unrealiable and untrust-worthy Specter.

Finally, DEMS in PA should put forward a credible candidate to run against Specter in the Primary. Nothing comes easy and nothing should be free in politics especially in this polarizing times after being on the wrong side of the issues for more than 30 years.

Posted by: dressypink | May 1, 2009 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Dressypink makes an excellent point, regardless of which side you come down on. I wouldn't trust Specter as far as I could throw him..

Posted by: flintston | May 1, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

I guess Republicans will just have to sit back and wait for more private sector people to lose their jobs, homes etc. and to realize that because of Obama and their own taxes, government and union workers will keep their jobs, benefits and pensions. Only then will his supporters start to turn on him and the Democrat party.

Posted by: thebink | May 1, 2009 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Just another good reason for Spector being booted out of the Party. Yes, he was down 20 points in early polls.

Posted by: ekim53 | May 1, 2009 3:23 PM | Report abuse

donmaralis' suggestion is so logical and tidy that it will be sure to be rejected.Clearly not enough drama.
Neither side "loses" ; the margin is still 3 more Dems than Reps; no one gets bumped, in fact another Republican gets ON the committee. It could be done by Monday. Beautiful ! Change back to 11-8 after the 2010 elections
How can McConnell et al say "No"......... oh, never mind, I forgot they are Republicans.

Posted by: jmsbh | May 1, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: dhousand1 | May 1, 2009 4:23 PM | Report abuse

I hate being a skeptic on Specter's hold on power ploy. He has not given me any reason to beleive otherwise. His switch serves only to tangibly benefit Specter alone and maybe give Obama a psuedo victory of bipartisanship. Nothing more.

The thought of adding another GOP on judicial committee makes it 11/9 ratio since Specter will not be voting for Obama's supreme court nominee in his lifetime.

No sane commander ever trust a captured spy with his personal safety. Specter is no saint to common cause or populist movements.

Specter will not support a congressional action action against cheney torture gang and will not vote for Obama's ed, healthcare and energy bills. ONCE AGAIN, WHAT GOOD IS SPECTER TO DEMs other than a ploy to hold on to power?????

Posted by: dressypink | May 1, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

The solution is to add one seat to the Dem side, making it 12-8. That's 60%, which will exactly match the Senate at-large once Franken is seated.

Specter stays on the committee, the GOP gets to replace him, and no Democrats get the boot. Everyone's happy except the poor nominee who gets grilled by Specter.

Posted by: GregCleveland | May 1, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

The problem with all this speculation about formulas for the Judiciary Committee, is that it overlooks the reality that Frankin will likely be seated as the elected Minn Senator within the next 30-60 days when Coleman comes to his senses and after he is once again rejected by the Minnesota courts. Then what, Reid recalculates the Committee formulas all over again?

Posted by: leichtman | May 1, 2009 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Why do you think the corrupt democrats bought him off?
Now they can put any liberal slug they want on the court. Even one who thinks that European law ought to enter in to decisions about our constitution. What an embarrassing situation for our country.

Posted by: LarryG62 | May 1, 2009 5:13 PM | Report abuse

If it were so simple, jmsbh!

Donmaralis' suggestion is logical, and even elegant if one only takes into account the Judiciary Committee on its own, but remember that the Committee assignments were set by a carefully-negotiated resolution when this Congress started and they establish a ratio that reflects the Senate's balance. Any solution to this connundrum mean some serious horse trading between Reid and McConnell.

Regarding those who want to kick Specter off the Judiciary Committee, there is the minor issue of his seniority. He might be the newest Democratic senator, but seniority accrues by the time in service, not the time one has been a member of a political party. Specter is the second most senior member of the Committee, and in a body like the Senate, where seniority is king, Specter can actually be able to keep his seat in the Judiciary committee.

Whatever option they come up is going to leave some senatorial noses out of joint. Although removing one of the most junior in the committee, Kaufmann or Klobuchar might not work, perhaps Reid could look higher up the seniority list, Oregon's Wyden. However, he comes from a swing state so it might still be controversial. Another option would be removing one of the two Democratic senators from Wisconsin (Kohl and Feingold), which Reid could justify as giving one state too much influence in the committee.

However, those who want Reid to kick Specter out of the Judiciary Committee will have to settle to the fact that he'll probably remain a memeber, the same way as Leiberman, despite the howls of many liberal groups for his apostasy in supporting John McCain, kept his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

Posted by: Kruhn1 | May 1, 2009 5:36 PM | Report abuse

Well, did Arlen hang himself in the Judiciary Committee? The Democrats don't owe him anything.

Posted by: peterroach | May 1, 2009 5:40 PM | Report abuse

Actually, the Democrats will simply change the rules and go forward. We are not in a democratic society today - one party rule, sort of like a monarchy.
Linked article tells how young Americans will pay all boomer debt . . .

Posted by: lclifton | May 1, 2009 5:42 PM | Report abuse

Maybe he can atone for his unfair but effective cross examination of Anita Hill? Anybody who ever thought Clarence Thomas was qualified to be on the Court should be kept off the judiciary committee.

Posted by: samgreyson | May 1, 2009 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Kaufman is a seat warmer, so not an unreasonable swap. No idea if that's workable.

lclifton - You misunderstand the difference between systems. If anything, we're close to a parliamentary system in which one party controls the executive and legislative branches. Of course, we don't have a House of Lords...


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | May 1, 2009 6:00 PM | Report abuse

No mystery: Kaufman's history. Grassley almost certainly will request and receive the ranking member role.

Posted by: abqcleve | May 1, 2009 6:01 PM | Report abuse

I like donmarlais's suggestion. Adding 2 new members would solve the problem, and it's important to have an appropriate level of representation for both parties. As long as neither party sent wacky extremists to the panel, that could work out.

Posted by: timscanlon | May 1, 2009 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Single-party rule is nothing more than a dictatorship in disguise.

Posted by: flintston

I don't have time to research, but I'm confident you said exactly the same thing between 2001 and 2006.

Posted by: abqcleve | May 1, 2009 6:04 PM | Report abuse

"Republicans are in a slight scramble to figure out who will now assume the top post on that panel, the high-profile role of leading the OPPOSITION to Souter's successor."

Typical of today's Congress, the Republicans are expected to oppose whoever the Democratic President nominates, just as they knee-jerk oppose any legislation he submits. This is before anyone, including the President, knows who that will be.

We're opposed, don't confuse us with the facts.

Posted by: BTMPost | May 1, 2009 6:16 PM | Report abuse

I've watched CSPAN when repubs had control and now for past 2 1/2 years the dems in congress. Who's going to organize opposition? LOL. Any of the rubes on the committee will do, they all take the same stances so what difference does it make? These committees really don't matter for the minority party unless they can sway a couple democrats away from the party position. This rarely happens on either side. The real compromises come from the party leaders not the committee leaders as Pelosi and Reid can eliminate or add anything they want. Being majority leader matters but not minority leader unless the democrats want/need political cover on something.

Posted by: Frigistan | May 1, 2009 6:23 PM | Report abuse

Why are you assuming the Republicans will oppose Souter's successor even before one is named? Unless of course you believe the Republicans will oppose anyone Obama names on the principal of NO.

Posted by: wickiser | May 1, 2009 7:35 PM | Report abuse

Hahahahaha ... the Nope-a-Dopes are out in force on this one! Hilarious how deeply this seems to bother the rightwingers. Keep on typing -- quite enjoyable, all.

Posted by: Omyobama | May 1, 2009 7:53 PM | Report abuse

It seems that the Dems could hold a seat on the Judiciary Committee over Specter's head in exchange for some quid pro quo (i.e. a confirming vote for the next justice, healthcare, etc.); the logical route would be to move Kaufmann to another committee and leave Klobuchar in place, given her expertise. For the Republicans, Grassley makes sense for Ranking Member but may be a tricky balancing act with his Finance Committee duties.

Posted by: bigdp07 | May 1, 2009 7:54 PM | Report abuse

Paul is this automatic or are you making an asumption..." the high-profile role of leading the opposition to Souter's successor."

Posted by: chriskullar | May 1, 2009 8:35 PM | Report abuse

I hope Democrats are not stupid enough to think Specter can be trusted. By his own admission it was just a political move to be reelected. Personally, I hope it fails.

Posted by: barblze | May 1, 2009 8:43 PM | Report abuse

Arlen Specter knows his stuff when it comes to Judicial appointments. Orin Hatch is excellent as well.
The Senate will give His Highness the replacement he asks for unless the candidate as so many of Obama's first choices turns out to owe taxes, hired an illegal or is otherwise impaired.

Posted by: mharwick | May 1, 2009 9:30 PM | Report abuse

The way I see it, the Democrats should have Specter on probation. Once they get MN, then go for single payer health care.Then line up card check, vote for young liberal Supreme Court judges,etc. If Specter does not vote for all of these, then the Democrats have primary opponent(s). If he passes the litmus test, let him run unopposed. The important thing is we get the agenda through before there is anything that can stop it. If, on the other hand, he is a closet Republican by voting against these key issues, then he and Toomey can easily be beaten. He has time to prove himself, but one false step and there are challengers. Of course no matter what, the voters of PA have the final say. But the party gets to support whichever candidate it wants.

Posted by: TomfromNJ1 | May 1, 2009 9:31 PM | Report abuse

The only difference between the Titanic and the Gop is the Titanic had a its every man for himself.

Posted by: smorrow | May 1, 2009 11:02 PM | Report abuse

An increase from 11 D/7R to 12D/8R sounds good to me also.

Posted by: dotellen | May 1, 2009 11:10 PM | Report abuse

The Dems don't need Specter's vote on card check. They need his vote for cloture on card check. He will deliver that. Dems get what they need, Specter maintains the pretense that he sticks to his flip-flops, er, priniples, I mean. Everybody's happy. Except the Republicans, which makes me happy.

Posted by: aardman | May 2, 2009 12:37 AM | Report abuse

So what's the problem? Bump the Biden-substitute, of course. He is only a placeholder anyway. Specter will be useful as a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee and you will want to keep the female.

Posted by: RichardKefalos | May 2, 2009 12:42 AM | Report abuse

I keep remembering the "old" days, when Specter really savaged Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings. Why would the Dems even want him around when it comes to another court justice? Hasn't he done enough damage? He gives the term "politically motivated" a bad name!

Posted by: heyrevlh | May 4, 2009 12:27 PM | Report abuse

I think Pres. Obama and Sen. Rendell make a big mistake in announcing that they will back Specter. I hope they meant in the GE should it come to that, but I actually hope that the Dems. in Pennsylvania don't nominate him. What is it the Republicans used to be fond of saying? Something like,"we'll let him in the choir, but we won't let him conduct!"

Posted by: nwsjnky1 | May 4, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse

As an Independent-registered PA resident, I don't hold out much hope of the Democratic Primary offering us any alternative to Arlen Specter. We lost a good, solid, progressive female candidate not so long ago because the Dem honchos in Harrisburg and D.C. wanted to run Bob Casey. They simply told her not to run against him.
From everything that's been said about Specter's flip-flop, from the White House to Harrisburg on down, there's little chance any candidate who dared to try to really represent the people would get a snowflake's chance in hell...
And I second the opinion previously offered - this man cannot be trusted as far as you can toss him. He represents his own self-interest above and beyond that of the constituents who pay his wages. Always has, always will.

Posted by: lynncjaeger | May 5, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company