May 6th, 2009
12:09 PM ET
12 years ago

Senate strips Specter of seniority after party switch

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter has lost his seniority on Senate committees after recently switching parties."]
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Arlen Specter was in the driver's seat when the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled the two newest Supreme Court justices back in 2005, but the Pennsylvania senator won't be front and center next time.

Specter jumped from the Republican party to the Democratic party last week, putting the Democrats within reach of a 60-seat "supermajority" that could make it all but impossible for Republicans to block Democratic legislation.

On Tuesday the Senate confirmed that the party switch dropped him to the bottom of the heap in terms of seniority.

That means he will be the very last to speak when the Judiciary Committee questions President Barack Obama's yet-to-be-named nominee to replace Justice
David Souter - after even Sen. Ted Kaufman of Delaware, who has been a senator for all of four months.

In fact, only two of the 18 other senators on the committee have been in the upper house longer than Specter - and he has been in the Senate longer than seven other committee members put together.

But there is more at stake than Specter's ego or bragging rights.

The old saw "rank hath its privileges" holds true in the U.S. Senate as in few other places. With seniority comes the ability to influence legislation.

Specter lost his seniority on other committees as well, including the powerful Appropriations Committee - the one that doles out money. He's now junior to Montana's Sen. Jon Tester, who has been in the Senate since 2007.

Specter has been citing his seniority on the Appropriations Committee as he hits the campaign trail as a Democrat.

"My senior position on appropriations has enabled me to bring a lot of jobs and a lot of federal funding to this state," Specter said at a town hall meeting on Monday.

Over and over, he made a point of telling an auditorium filled with medical faculty and staff about the hundreds of millions of dollars he delivered to the Keystone State, thanks to the power he's accumulated in his 29 years in the Senate.

"Pennsylvania has a big interest in my seniority, a big interest," he said.

A day later, the Senate has stripped him of that seniority. The resolution, which set out committee assignments for the entire Senate, was approved on a unanimous voice vote.

–CNN's Dana Bash and Kamalpreet Badasha contributed to this report.

Filed under: Arlen Specter • Democrats • Popular Posts • Senate
soundoff (198 Responses)
  1. Ryan

    All these comments just show both liberals and conservatives are nut cases, he was in the senate either way his party affiliation should not matter to people so much. He's helped both parties, and both parties now treat him like crap. There should be a third party for the center.

    May 6, 2009 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  2. vicky

    Republicans hypocracy........

    They do this to him just because of switching the parties but could have lost the election if he remained a rep. anyway....

    May 6, 2009 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  3. Naldo

    Common folk refer to this phenomenon as "You move, you lose!" It applies to seating arrangements around the TV.

    May 6, 2009 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  4. Nick

    The Democrats got a big break getting Spector to change parties. Then they dump on him.

    This may come back to bite the Dems if Spector is not perceived as a powerful committee chairman when the elections are held next year. It may be just enough to put Tom Ridge on top in PA.

    May 6, 2009 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  5. James Hester

    Why do liberals continue to call conservatives ignorant? Is this based on CNN sampling? Population statistics? Or simply Hollywood-style observations? Liberal or conservative, ignorance and intollerance are common and oft shared traits (just check CCN or Fox message boards for a wee taste). I'd suggest we all step back, count to a hundred and try to remember that in a democracy individuals have the right to believe as they will or conceive ideas that don't fit into your personal norm. Respect the ideas and observations of all people, all ages, and cultures – the key is RESPECT...which doesn't imply ADOPT. Our culture (that of the United States of America) is the greatest on earth because of the tollerance of indivduals...our embracing of FREEDOM. Engage in meaningful discussions and quit wallowing in hate and indignation. And if I misspelled anything or my grammar sucks...sorry...I am a Republican afterall.

    May 6, 2009 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  6. DefiantOne

    You reap what you sow, Arlen.

    May 6, 2009 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  7. Simpliticus

    It basically is up to the good people of Pennsylvania to indicate whether they are supporting Specter's decision to go democrat or toss him out on his behind! Is the man loved that much that the good voter will not recoil that he has turned only to save his posterior from being defeated in the next election, the man knows which way the sun shines! Simply saying that he used to be a democrat years ago doesn't make any more sense than spitting into the wind. But of course the man changed his party back in '66 when the country was going more republican then with the election of Nixon in '68. The voters should be a little tired of being so manipulated and tired of these changing musical chairs of Specter! Is Specter truly a Democrat? is a reasonable question!

    May 6, 2009 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  8. bipartisan_pipe_dream

    What the Dems are doing is just common sense. You can't take on a new hire without a probationary period, regardless of their experience. With all the excitement of a new highly qualified hire, a good employer must see if the fit is right. The Reps are sore and the Dems are partisan. We'll see that for years to come until the ins and the outs are reversed. Same old Washington.

    May 6, 2009 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  9. banks

    Him being stripped is pretty lame, but it's pretty amusing because he is just looking to get re-elected. They need to scrap the party system. How about we just vote for people based on their character and not on if they are with the "right" party. People are becoming drones that can't think anymore and Specter is just trying to cash in on that.

    And please, can we stop making hateful comments about each party? Guess what? They are all politicians and almost all of them are looking out for themselves in some way or another. No party is better than the other and people from both parties have been making nasty comments.

    And another thing – don't be blinded to the fact that the republicans haven't been in control over the last 8 years. One person does not define control.

    Be independent.

    May 6, 2009 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  10. Deb

    Senator Specter switched to the Democratic party for personal gain not because his idealogy had changed. He has also made it very clear that he will not be the 60th vote and I feel he will continue to vote Republican. We now need to make sure he does not win in Pennsylvania.

    May 6, 2009 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  11. skyhawkdriver

    HEY ARLEN!!!..GUESS WHAT???..GOTCHA!!..which one of your rocket scientist advisors told you to switch parties???..,,give that boy a cigar..

    May 6, 2009 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  12. Kurt C.

    Hahahahahahahaha!!! The other side doesn't seem so great, now, does it Senator Specter.

    Start at the bottom again, Two-Face.

    May 6, 2009 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  13. Anarchy Is Better than This!

    Amazing that so many people on here think that the Republicans did this to Specter. Makes a good arguement for some sort of voter qualification test. When you have morons voting, is it any wonder you have morons and crooks in office?

    May 6, 2009 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  14. Fred the Moderate

    You know, you just can't expect to get everything. When you make an action there will always be an equal but opposite reaction!

    You see the Dem's and the Republicans don't trust you, sort of like Lieberman. Your independance forces all to look at you as an outsider. That's fine but you don't get in that way.

    Politics is a dirty business big guy and what you did to your party is a sign of it, just like Lieberman

    May 6, 2009 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  15. Tobey

    Try this on for size.........
    Specter changed parties with the blessing of the Republican party. He is the senior Senator for his party on the Judiciary Comm. If he was allowed to retain his seniority he would become Chairman. He would then be in a position to disrupt President Obama's Supreme Court Justice nomination.

    May 6, 2009 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  16. Ellen Rudolph

    It is amazing to read some of these comments. This is a country of rules. Has anyone considered that the senate followed the governing rules in assigning Arlen Specter on the various committees?

    May 6, 2009 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  17. Derek Jacobs

    Spector's demanding 'affirmative action', which is something he, as a Republican, was always firmly against.
    He wants special preferences and his colleagues didn't choose to give it to him.
    Maybe what he outta do is SWITCH PARTIES... again... but that would be the THIRD time, since he also switched 18 years ago from Democrat to the GOP.
    Anyway, he's stated he won't vote in favor of the president's agenda, so Pennsylvania Democrats shouldn't vote for him next year.
    That MSNBC guy Chris Matthews started to look better and better once Specter made his move.

    May 6, 2009 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  18. Steve B

    I am not sure which is more annoying: the over the top conservative attacks on him, or the liberals who believe that any one who hurts the conservatives did something admirable. He quit the Republicans in order to keep his seat in an increasingly democratic district. This is not some huge ideological accomplishment or failure. Its just politics as usual taken to the next level: "Do what you have to do, to get yourself re-elected."

    The entire structure of Congress (both houses) is based upon seniority, so you can not actually dismiss the impact of this ruling. While Committee Chairs may have more power and influence then other members, Senior members are definitely higher on the influence and power ladder than junior members. I just hope the people of Pennsylvania reject his politically ploy and vote someone else in, be they Democrat, Republican, or Ineffective Independent like myself.

    May 6, 2009 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  19. Sharon Kitchen

    He is an elder in the senate ......this will not change.

    May 6, 2009 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  20. john

    Stripping Spector of his seniority is a sad outcome. Now, instead of being no worse than "ranking member" (#2) on committees he chaired when the Republicans controlled the Senate, Spector finds himself on the lowest rung of the seniority ladder. Obviously, his switch didn't win any new friends among Democrats. (I wonder if they would have taken this action if he had supported the "card check" bill?)
    In hindsight, Spector would be better off to run as an independent.

    May 6, 2009 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  21. Rick CT

    In a wire story release just a short while ago on the CNN site, Spector said he was promised continuing senority. That comes after Spector had said there were no promises made in exchange for the switch.

    Shows that he's a liar and the Dems are getting full of themselves. Wonder if Obama will back off on his pledge of support against a fellow Dem now that Spector has lost his pull.

    Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

    May 6, 2009 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  22. JP

    Specter can work his way up now; after all, there are repercussions for putting SELF first.

    May 6, 2009 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
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