May 6th, 2009
12:09 PM ET
11 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. mjm

    Back stabbing a back stabber.

    May 6, 2009 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  2. Doug, New Jersey

    There was a time when I thought Specter cared about America but in the end he was just a run of the mill selfish liberal Democrat.

    At this point it just may not be possible for someone with integrity, decency, morals, values, and common courtesy to win in an ultra blue state. You must identify with the majority to get elected and if you show that you are not an evil, hateful, selfish, dishonest lib, you really don't have a chance.

    May 6, 2009 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  3. LIP

    Could this possibly be pay back for jumping from the Democratic party originally about 30 years ago.
    Anyway, this is what happens to turncoats. They forever lose the respect of those they left and those they joined.

    May 6, 2009 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  4. Boris

    In his press conference Specter said he would retain seniority. Looks like he was so anxious to become a Democrat after the polls showing him losing in the primary that he did not make sure he would not lose seniority.

    May 6, 2009 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  5. just truth

    that will teach these worms to stay loyal to a party and not be a snake and go which ever way he thinks he can manuever things his way.

    May 6, 2009 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  6. redman

    just like starting a new job to most folks.... you don't start at the top

    May 6, 2009 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  7. uhoh

    This can't be good for Pennsylvania. poor guy. Changes parties to uphold his integrity, and is punished for it.

    May 6, 2009 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  8. Melissa

    How childish.

    May 6, 2009 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  9. S Callahan

    Perhaps, in the long run he holds the better hand in this. A man's (or woman's) measure is not by the committee's he's(she's) on...he has a reputation and with that is influence...he is very valuable to the Democracts and they would be fooling themselves to think otherwise.

    May 6, 2009 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  10. Frozone

    This is good news. It's clear that Specter is only out for protecting his own hide, not what's good for the country or the president. I hope that Obama is not too quick to support Specter in the Democratic primaries either.

    May 6, 2009 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  11. Robin

    He deserved it, because he did not change parties to keep his intergrity. He did it to keep his seat.

    May 6, 2009 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  12. Lori

    Arlen Specter will be just fine. Call him what you want. A 'backstabber' or whatever. All I care about is that he'll keep Pennsylvania blue, baby!!!

    May 6, 2009 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  13. Christopher

    This was a mistake if the democrats wanted to ensure he wins the next election as their representative. Arlen Specter's influence seniority on committees was the best reason for Pennsylvanians to vote him back into office.

    May 6, 2009 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  14. louis Allen

    I am now 86. 20 years ago I was active in the local FL Democratic executive committee. To be a member you had to affirm that you were a loyal Democrat and that you would not vote out of the party unless there was no Democrat running. Spector would not even be allowed on such a committee. He actually was incensed that someone accused him of being a loyal Democrat. What a hoax.

    May 6, 2009 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  15. Andy in Texas

    That'll teach him. Instead of losing his seniority and his job by losing the GOP primary to a right-wing nutjob, he loses his seniority but keeps his job by switching parties. Still, its a good deal for him, and the GOP refuses to acknowledge the wake up call of his defection.

    May 6, 2009 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  16. SP

    Looks like Benedict Arlen miscalculated the kindness of his newfound friends. Wonder if he will now switch to Independent?

    May 6, 2009 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  17. mkr

    The Democrats would have been wise to allow Sen. Specter to keep his seniority, if possible. He is a voice of reason among many who spout only party line and do not look for a compromise.

    May 6, 2009 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  18. Joe - Chicago

    I suppose from Specter's position, being junior most member is better than being no member. Odd position to take for the democrats after the generosity shown to Lieberman. Caesar won the loyalty of many of his former rivals through the generosity he showed them after his victory, but then again, he was murdered on the senate floor.

    May 6, 2009 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  19. Former Obama fan

    Wow, you'd think that the Obama administration would take care of its friends. Did anyone in the President's administration discuss this with Harry Reid? Did anyone try to avoid the infighting and backstabbing?

    May 6, 2009 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  20. painthorseman21

    He didn't change parties because of his integrity, he changed for what he saw was a hope at winning another term. Hopefully, he's out no matter which party wins.

    May 6, 2009 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  21. Hayden

    I have no sympathy. He didn't switch parties for integrity or for overriding noble reasons. He switched parties because he was going to lose the primary and wanted to stay in power. He is the worst kind of politician.

    May 6, 2009 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  22. mike

    Politics at its "best!" It doesn't matter how long you have been there, it only matters how long you have been kissing somebody's butt!

    May 6, 2009 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  23. terry maineiac

    good news. he showed his position on his first vote after the switch he is still voting republican

    May 6, 2009 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  24. Ben Holmes

    Uhoh- did you say Specter has integrity? HAH! The only principle he lives by is the "save my job" principle.

    May 6, 2009 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  25. Mark

    While I do not like Specter changing his party affiliation he has that right. His assesment of thr Republican party is correct. It has moved way to far to the Rush right to suit me. Bu the neocons think that Specters jumping ship shows disloyalty and some are even referring to him as a traitor, let me remind them that Ronald Reagan, their boy, started out as a Democrat. Was this kind of treatment directed at him when he changed parties? No. That's the difference between todays parties. When republicans refer to liberals as mean and vindivtive, they need only look in the mirror to see such aperson.

    May 6, 2009 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
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