Friday, May 08, 2009

Harry Reid gets tough with Arlen Specter

"You f**ked up, Arlen. You trusted us!"
Earlier this week, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter got a rough welcome from his new Democratic teammates in the Senate. Arlen had only just switched parties, infuriating Republicans, casting them into despair, than the Democrats voted to strip him of his seniority thereby effectively demoting him in the Senate hierarchy.

Not exactly a warm welcome. But then again...

In the wake of Arlen's announcement about the switch, he had gone out of his way to make clear that he would not be "an automatic 60th vote" for the Obama agenda. He made great mention of his independence and stressed that he never told President Obama that he would be a loyal Democrat.

Arlen then went on to defy his new party by voting against President Obama's proposed budget, and against a bill sponsored by Majority Whip Dick Durban (D-IL) that would have rewritten bankruptcy laws.

For a senator in Specter's precarious position, that's getting to be a little big for the britches.

The straw that may have broken the camel's back came when Arlen took the extraordinary step of calling on the Minnesota courts to "do justice and declare Norm Coleman the winner."

(Remember that Norm Coleman, the incumbent Republican senator from Minnesota is in a court battle with Al Franken to determine who will occupy the seat after an extremely close election. Currently, Franken is ahead in the vote count, and represents the magic 60th Democratic senator.)

I'm not a big fan of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV); he's generally kind of wimpy. But I'm frankly astonished at his moxie in this instance. Very soon after Senator Specter's ill-advised comment, he was forced to publicly backpedal, saying something about misspeaking in the "swirl" of changing caucuses. One can only imagine the conversation that must have occurred between Specter and Reid in the interim.

Although Reid had assured Specter that he would keep his seniority should he choose to join the Democrats, the Majority Leader apparently had second thoughts. Even though Specter had been on Meet the Press talking about his Senate seniority as an "entitlement" the Democrats in the Senate voted to strip him.

Senator Reid then showed admirable (and ruthless) political deftness by remarking later that the matter would be revisited in the new congress. That is, in the congress that is elected in 2010.

That puts Arlen Specter in a very tight spot.

If he continues to buck the Democrats' agenda, he could face a primary challenge from another Pennsylvania Democrat, US Representative Joe Sestak, a former 3-star admiral in the US Navy, and a popular congressman. And then, should he fend off that challenge, he'll have to face the Republican nominee, likely to be Pat Toomey, the arch-conservative meathead whom Specter barely defeated in the primary the last time he was up for reelection. Should Specter manage to win in the general election, he will still need his new Democratic colleagues to vote him back into his seniority in the next Congress.

Now Specter's best move would seem to be to fall into line with whatever the Democratic leadership proposes and hope for the best. It's his only real chance at getting back what he has lost.

Just yesterday, apparently satisfied that Specter had received the message, the Democratic leadership relented, just a bit. Senator Durban agreed to step aside as the chairmen of the Crime and Drug Subcommittee Chairman and give the gavel to Specter.

First the stick, then the carrot.

Reid and the Democrats have Specter right where they want him. And, when you are a US Senator, whenever you are right where someone wants you, that is never a good place to be.

1 comment:

Eclectic Dilettante said...

I have no respect for a guy who switches parties to make re-election easier.

We need term limits for all members of Congress.