Tales from the Trail

Specter: Republican Sr becomes Democrat Jr

May 6, 2009

SENATE/CLINTON/GATES

A week after switching parties, former Republican-turned-Democratic U.S. Senator Arlen Specter has suffered the political equivalent of a kick in the pants.

The action — stripping him of Senate seniority — isn’t expected to change the outcome of any pending legislation. But it puts Specter on notice he must earn his Democratic stripes.

The figurative boot in the butt was administered on late Tuesday by Senate Democrats, who have been irritated by many of Specter’s initial moves as a member of their party.

Since leaving the Republican ranks, Specter has voted against President Barack Obama’s $3.4 trillion budget plan and opposed a Democratic bid to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. He also joked that Republican Norm Coleman by end up winning a contested Senate race in Minnesota and denied a report that he had told President Barack Obama “I’m a loyal Democrat.”

“Specter hasn’t done himself any favors the past week,” a top Democrat said.

In changing parties last week, however, Specter, 79, first elected to the Senate in 1980, told reporters he would continue to break party ranks when he sees fit.

He also said that Senate Majority leader Harry Reid had assured him that he would retain his seniority.

But the full Democratic-led Senate, on a voice vote on Tuesday, made Specter the chamber’s most junior Democrat.

“Let’s face it. Specter isn’t a warm and fuzzy guy, the type you go out of your way to help out,” said a top Democrat.”Specter now has a year and a half to make his case to his new Democratic colleagues.”

Senate Democrats have indicated they will revisit Specter’s seniority after the 2010 election, when the Pennsylvanian will be up for a sixth term.

Specter said in a statement on Wednesday: “Some members of the (Senate Democratic) 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 eager to continue my work with my colleagues on the various committees on which I serve and will continue to be a staunch and effective advocate for Pennsylvania’s and the nation’s priorities,” Specter said.

REUTERS/Larry Downing   (Sen. Arlen Specter’s name plate sits on a desk)

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