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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.

By Paul Volpe  |  May 6, 2009; 5:49 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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As soon as Reid can clean his face of egg residue left from the Specter conversion, he might want to reconsider if Pennsylvania would be better served.

Posted by: slim2 | May 6, 2009 6:42 PM | Report abuse

Easy solution here. Discount Specter's years by 50%. He loses half his seniority, a small price to pay for supporting the Clinton impeachment. Alternatively, start negotiating the percentages depending on critical upcoming votes.

Posted by: thebobbob | May 6, 2009 6:53 PM | Report abuse

Specter has appeared confused about everything for the last few years.

Posted by: dragutin_dimitrijevic | May 6, 2009 6:58 PM | Report abuse

Can you prove it old man?

While I think you may be useful my fervent hope is that you'll soon be resting back in Pennsylbamma.

Posted by: kase | May 6, 2009 7:13 PM | Report abuse

By way of the majority Congress expressing outrage with Harry Reid's handling of this issue, Harry has told quite few folks that getting Specter at age 79 to switch parties was a "Moment Win" for the Democrats but a big one. This is how he described it a "Moment Win" for the Democrats. He also said he promised Specter nothing which is what Specter is going to get. Arlen, take a sabbatical or retire.

You have had a distinguished political career and need to be dealt with in a dignified manner but you know what? You chose this so continue having Reid making you the monkey with him the grinder. The Democrats don’t have the stomach for you Mr. Specter and now that Harry has thrown you into the Grand Canyon don’t expect any Republicans to throw you a line. The only line you got was the one from Reid and it was a doozy.

Posted by: spiderbyte88 | May 6, 2009 7:20 PM | Report abuse

I would actually prefer Specter to Reid as Majority Leader of the Democratic Party. Specter is able to parse rather than just punch. As Reid is basically honest and forthright, I believe he will come through for Obama and Biden in this matter.

Posted by: myhonestopinion | May 6, 2009 7:22 PM | Report abuse

Quote: "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."

Now that's a laugh. He's got to be re-elected first. He won't even get either party's nomination again.

Posted by: wly34 | May 6, 2009 7:39 PM | Report abuse

The Democrats may very well lose this seat to the Republicans because of this.
The lesson here is never trust a promise from Sen. Reid.

Posted by: lostinthemiddle | May 6, 2009 7:40 PM | Report abuse

Given Spectors comments on seating Norm Coleman as Minn Senator rather than Al Franken who won the election and his statement Sunday on "Meet the Press" that he never stated he would be a "good Democrat" he has asked for this type of treatment and personally I hope Admiral Sestak primaries him next year and make him earn the Democratic nomination, he knew he would NOT win against the Club for Growth a right wing nut job group that takes out moderates, so why should democratic voters suffer ala Leiberman style politics, instead of having Arlen shoved down their throats, let the dead lay after the primaries in 2010. Go Admiral Sestak you have a lot of support.

Posted by: mikey30919 | May 6, 2009 7:41 PM | Report abuse

Nothing in Nevada politics prepared Harry Reid for Arlen Specter. Specter's a snake. Reid's not ready for prime time.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | May 6, 2009 8:36 PM | Report abuse

Sigh . . . One thing that the Dems fail to realize is the importance of charisma as well as political talent.
UNFORTUNATELY, no matter how nice and devoted to his country and party, Harry Reid looks like a wimp, has the speaking voice of a boring wimp, and often goofs with premature statements. He is a great target for the GOP.
His Specter promises, AND THEN WORMING AWAY FROM THEM is a perfect example of the problem.
The Dem party NEEDS to carefully, and as politely as possible replace him as Senate Leader.

Posted by: lufrank1 | May 6, 2009 8:36 PM | Report abuse

Lay down with dogs, come up with fleas

Posted by: jiboo | May 6, 2009 8:59 PM | Report abuse

The shame of it with Reid is that surely as a Nevada politico who's withstood Repub scrutiny as Senate leader, he knows how to say no to corrupt suggestions. We're talking a state whose largest city is Las Vegas here.

But Harry's never met a man like Arlen, who takes notes on every meeting, and when it suits him, hangs you out to dry in the worst possible light, even though you've done nothing wrong.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | May 6, 2009 9:07 PM | Report abuse

Poor Arlen Specter how does it feel to be double-crossed? This egomaniac needs to get out of the Senate and retire where he can do no more damage to the Democratic Party.

Posted by: MsMarTampa | May 6, 2009 9:32 PM | Report abuse

Excuse Me! Arlen Spector as Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee.... I don't think so!

If he is awarded that spot a lot of very liberal democrats like myself are going to sit on our hands when the calls come for financial help for the DNC and the DNCC and whichever other democratic candidates get my name off the master contributor list. Spector has been an advocate for just the kind of judges this country does not need. I understand politics, but this one would be tooooooo much to swallow.

Posted by: CalifObserver | May 6, 2009 9:45 PM | Report abuse

To follow this story, I've found it necessary, to endeavor to cut through a lot of chaff (more even than usual, sometimes propaganda out of Washington, seems little more accurate than that which comes out of Pyongyang, doubly so on this story) not only from the partisan point-scorers, who crowd most comments sections, including this one (and who should be banned!), but also from the journalists, who seem little better.

And Specter himself, seems to have mis-stated the position from the beginning; that he was getting “full seniority” as part of the deal, whereby he would join the Democrats. I thought right away, “That can't be right, about 90% of the Senate Dems, who have already been given positions for 2009/10, would have to be bumped down a slot, so Specter must mean, he'll get full seniority AFTER (and IF) he is re-elected”.

And, that would also nearly have to be right, and I'm sure is customary (e.g. When Strom Thurmond and other “Dixicrats” crossed over to the GOP). So it will be AFTER the 2010 election that Specter will get his seniority (IF he is elected, that is). But that will not necessarily (or even probably) mean that he will get the Judiciary Chair.

That will have to be decided by a Senate, which has not even been elected yet. --And as to Specter himself; my emotions are mixed, but I will trust Obama's/Biden's judgment.

Posted by: davidirby | May 6, 2009 10:50 PM | Report abuse

There's a new democrat in town that backs union labor and it's not Specter. Specter is losing it if he thinks the democratic faithful will give up their seniority for a republican claim jumper. Come election day it's going to be Thank You and good bye to Specter.

Posted by: kimkimminni1 | May 7, 2009 6:35 AM | Report abuse

Does anyone really believe that Specter would have made the switch if he had not been positive that he would regain seniority? He's been around a long time and isn't stupid enough to jump in without assurances.

Those Republicans who villify Specter for switching parties: Your anger and vitriol aren't unexpected. It is politics after all. However, one can hope that under all the hateful rhetoric, some party members might actually be looking at what the party has done and become that would chase away long-time members. Not taking responsibility for your actions is certainly counter-productive.

Posted by: iroshi | May 7, 2009 10:37 AM | Report abuse

I am a democrat but have hope the Harry Reid will get thrown out somehow. As for Spector if he does not like his new deal then he should do everyone a favor and retire.

Posted by: SWAMPYPD | May 7, 2009 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Specter said Reid "is a very strong leader". Having had the opportunity to watch Reid for many years, I think Specter meant to say "Reid is a very strong liar".

Posted by: TexRancher | May 7, 2009 7:06 PM | Report abuse

Specter now shold feel like a pariah in this egotistical Senate clan. He has no base. Republicans voted for him and he doesn't represents them. He has nothing. His bags are empty, why is he going to ask for seniority status when he has ho base of support?

Posted by: jaitop | May 8, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

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