Specter: Reid Promised Seniority, Eventual Judiciary Chairmanship
By Paul Kane
Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) today said he was guaranteed seniority on committees by Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) in the final negotiations before his party switch last week, talks that, according to Specter, also included a pledge that he would become the next chairman of the Judiciary Committee in several years.
Specter stood by his version of the one-on-one talks with Reid, despite the Senate leader's contradictory statements on the matter and the resolution that passed last night placing Specter in the most junior slot on most committees on which he serves.
"When I talked to Senator Reid he assured me that my seniority would be as if I came in (as a Democrat) in 1980, and I relied . . . on his representation, and that's the long and short of it," Specter said in an interview in his Capitol "hideaway" office.
Specter said he understood that he would not vault into any committee or subcommittee chairmanships in the midst of this two-year 111th Congress, but he remained confident that Reid would live up to his commitment by 2011, because Reid will convince the other Democrats to go along with their gentleman's agreement. The issue of seniority -- usually an arcane internal Senate matter -- is essential to the political rationale behind Specter's bid for re-election in 2010. Upon making the switch last week, Specter cited his nearly 30-year tenure as evidence of his ability to deliver projects for his constituents and, in fact, cited that seniority as the main purpose driving him to remain in the Senate.
Now, he'll be relegated to the most junior end of the committee tables without even a subcommittee chairmanship, and no guarantee of claiming seniority any time soon. This could give an opening to potential Democratic primary challengers and GOP challengers, who may try to portray Specter as nothing more than a 79-year-old freshman.
In a brief interview, Reid said today he never gave any guarantees to Specter, saying that the issue was always going to be left up to the rest of the Democratic caucus after the 2010 midterm elections. "Senator Specter and his chief of staff, we thought, understood. . . . It's up to the caucus," Reid said.
That statement is contradicted by Reid's own comments to reporters last Tuesday, when he said Specter's seniority on committees would definitely apply after the 2010 elections. Specter also has a printed out copy of the transcript from that Reid press conference, with key phrases placed in bold fonts.
But senior Democrats said that over the past week Reid faced a rebellion from veterans in his caucus who were infuriated that Specter would jump in front of them in the race for key chairmanships, particularly those serving on the powerful Appropriations Committee. If granted his more than 20 years as a Republican on that committee, Specter would vault to the fourth most senior slot, ahead of 13 other colleagues, and have his pick of critical subcommittee chairmanships that dole out tens of billions of dollars each year.
Specter acknowledged the "concerns" from other Democrats but said that was never an issue Reid raised in their discussions.
"There was no mention of the caucus when we talked. We talked more particularly about if Leahy became chairman of Appropriations, I would become chairman of the Judiciary. Ask him about that. That was the arrangement," Specter said.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) currently chairs the Judiciary Committee, but is next in line to take the gavel on the Appropriations Committee. If Specter were given his seniority, he would be in line to chair Judiciary if Leahy were to leave, a prospect liberal Democratic activists might find a bit uncomfortable given Specter's outspoken support of the Bush White House's judicial nominees.
Specter's discussions with Reid included two face-to-face meetings in the majority leader's office -- one on the evening of April 27, and then a sitdown with the two senators and their chiefs of staff April 28, the day the switch was announced. "We made the deal on Monday," Specter said, adding that the follow-up talk was to assure that his staff would get committee jobs.
Specter said Reid called him this morning to clear the air, and that the two are on good terms. A Reid spokesman said the leader "looks forward to doing whatever he can for Senator Specter's re-election effort."
Assuming he wins that reelection, Specter is confident Reid will convince the Democrats to stand down from their concerns and give him his seniority back.
"I think Senator Reid speaks for the caucus, he's a very strong leader," Specter said.
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