(CNN) - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, told CNN Wednesday that Sen. Arlen Specter's seniority on committees will be determined in the next Congress, but stopped short of pledging the onetime Republican would regain his choice positions on the panels.
In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, the Senate’s top Democrat suggested he never promised Specter's seniority would carry over when the longtime Pennsylvania Republican decided to join the Democratic Party last week.
"Sen. Specter and his chief of staff always were told that we couldn't interrupt any of the subcommittee chairs or the chairs until the next Congress," Reid said in an interview on The Situation Room. "And his seniority will be determined next Congress."
But Specter told CNN earlier in the day that Reid had in fact promised to honor his seniority when he jumped parties, a pledge that has reportedly riled other Senate Democrats.
"Sen. [Harry] Reid said that I would maintain my committee assignments and that my seniority would be established as if I'd been elected in 1980 as a Democrat," he told CNN's Dana Bash.
In the interview with CNN, Reid said Specter's status on key committees will ultimately be determined by the Democratic Caucus at the start of the next congressional session in 2010.
"All I can say is, every Congress since I've been here, we have a caucus to organize, and we determine seniority," he said. "And that's the way it's always been."
The full Senate voted Tuesday to strip Specter of his seniority, dropping him to the bottom of the 99-member body (a court battle is still underway to determine Minnesota's second senator). The action came on a resolution - passed on a unanimous voice vote - that set out committee assignments for the entire Senate.
Reid noted the resolution did place Specter on the five panels he severed on as a Republican - including the powerful Judiciary and Appropriations Committees - and said too much was being made of "where people sit."
"I think that we kind of exaggerate where people sit - Arlen is a senior member of the Senate, and that's significant," he said. "I think everyone should just kind of relax and understand that he's a Democrat, we're doing our best to make him happy as a Democrat. I think he is."