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. Natasha

    Welcome aboard Specter, welcome from the people of change. Republicans please grow up.

    May 6, 2009 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  2. Super MOD

    The problem today is too many people are willing to follow the party mantra. We need leaders who speak for the people in their districts. I am going to vote for the person who stands up for my beliefs regardless of party affiliation. I will not vote for a politician who is out for a job rather than representing the voter. Spector is supposed to be looking out for the interest of PA not the interest of the Democratic or Republican parties or himself.

    May 6, 2009 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  3. Steve

    Maybe Specter shouldn't have shot off his mouth about not being a "loyal Democrat," about wanting Republican Norm Coleman to be seated from Minnesota, and about not supporting health care reform or organized labor. Time for a Democratic primary challenger.

    May 6, 2009 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  4. Fair is Fair

    Turnabout is fair play, Arlen. The republicans can't stand you and the democrats don't trust you... and both are completely justified in their beliefs.

    May 6, 2009 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  5. Roger

    The Senator made a wise political decision....THEY are all politicans democrats or republicans....I do believe that Senator Specter is more in line with the dems than the right wing wacko's....he will do a fine job....

    May 6, 2009 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  6. Leslie

    Arlen, you deserve what you get from the Democrats!

    May 6, 2009 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  7. Steve

    I am very glad to see him switch parties. But it's only because his political greed and everyone knows this even if he says otherwise. I only wish he would GROW A BACK BONE and support the party he's now committed that will probably help him win re-election. And STOP being wishy, washy, about his LOYALTY to the President. You either in OR YOU'RE NOT. And if you're going to reap the benefits of being a DOMOCRAT now and not vote accordingly with Mr. OBAMA and support his agenda to make the lives of Americans and this country very prominent again. He should switch back to the GOP cause they don't want the same.

    May 6, 2009 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  8. Dan, TX

    Sounds totally unfair. He has seniority and he should keep it. Who cares what party you're in, you are trying to do what is best for America. We should do away with parties altogether. Let their words and deeds define their politics, not a party label.

    May 6, 2009 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  9. charlesh

    Disappointing judgment. I guess the Senate eats its own. They just turned their back on one of the finest Senators we have (D or R). He'll do just fine without their old boys club mentality on seniority. Best wishes and health for Arlen.

    May 6, 2009 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  10. Leslie

    How does it feel being demoted by the Democrats Arlen? From senior senator to junior......Ha! KARMA IS A BIATCH!

    May 6, 2009 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  11. A Citizen

    The view from the left truly amuses me. My friends, the GOP has not moved further to the right, the left has simply moved more to the left. The left has become far more radical over the years. I wouldn't expect you to be able to see that though, that would require you to have an open mind and critically and honestly evaluate things. Unfortunately this is something that very few of the neolibs are capable of doing – despite their incredible hubris.

    Congratulations to the new Junior Senator – way to go Arlen – now let's see how you do against Tom Ridge.

    May 6, 2009 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  12. Adam

    Why does party affiliation and loyalty matter? Doesn't he owe it to his constituents to vote as he promised he would and not to the political party that he is aligned with? He has been labeled a snake, but why? Because he votes on both sides of the party lines? Neither political party is 100% correct on every issue and I find it more troubling when a politician only votes as his party does, instead of taking a look at each decision and voting on the best interest of the people who put him in office

    May 6, 2009 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  13. Matt

    Why is everyone shocked at this? Anyone in politics is out to get elected and stay there. Does the election of Barack suddenly mean that politicians are looking out for us? Come on, righties and lefties, we can't be that stupid.

    May 6, 2009 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  14. John in Ohio

    Specter is a fine centrist Democrat.

    He's not a progressive liberal Democrat.

    The more irrelevant the Republicans become, the more you'll see of the split between the pro-corporate centrists in the DNC, and the anti-corporate progressives.

    May 6, 2009 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  15. Art

    You think Specter cares about you? Give me a break, he is only looking out for himself. He knew he would be out of a job at the end of this term and that is why he switched. He felt he could run on the Democratic ticket and win. But from what I'm hearing from his own party he's no very popular on that side of the aisle either. Our Government is forgetting one very basic rule. A Government built by the people for the people. Both parties needs to wake up and start taking care of business or look for a job in 2010.

    May 6, 2009 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  16. Mark

    Spector did not switch because he wanted to be a DEM, he swithced because he was going to lose.
    Sounds like the DEMS are scared that a simple minded person wants to be in their party.....OUCH!

    May 6, 2009 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  17. Chad

    Hopefully Specter gets bumped even further down the chain in the next election and is sent home. The guy is a waste fo space.

    May 6, 2009 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  18. T the B

    Specter did what he had to do. Did we all forget that congress is supposed to represent the people from their districts and not the party. The republicans have seriously lost their way sacraficing the representation of the masses for the few. Good move Arlen maybe more of those who claim to represent their own peopple from their own state will take on their true responsibilities.

    May 6, 2009 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  19. Ron

    I have been a longtime Democrat but this power grab is disturbing. I don't think Democrats or Republicans in Washington care what happens to us, they just want power.

    May 6, 2009 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  20. J

    How can either side trust this guy any more? All his votes are suspect.

    May 6, 2009 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  21. Rob

    Oh boo-hoo! Arlen tries to save his but, shafts the people he was supposed to represent, and he gets his seniority stripped. Serves him right. If he can't stand up for the conservative and Republican values he led his constituents to thinking he believed in, then he should have no power.

    But seeing as he did what he did to save his own butt he should fit right in with the rest of the Dems.

    May 6, 2009 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  22. Doug, New Jersey

    For the libs who are mentioning Reagan switching from Dem to Republican, well you know you are being dishonest, but I'll correct you anyway.

    There was a time before the 1960's when the Democratic party was pro America and not a socialist, selfish, hateful, arrogant party. It's sooo funny to see that if JFK were to run on the exact same platform he did in 1960 today, he would be labelled a far right wing neo-con fascist extremist. JFK's views would make the average lib froth like a latte and spit a rainstorm like their hero Barney Frank.

    Reagan was a man of integrity and a true patriot. The Democrat party changed to be the opposite of his beliefs and he switched. For someone to swith to the lib Democrat party today based on where it has been taken by Obama, means that they have always been a socialist and now a have a party to call their own. If you don't feel any remore when you lie or steal from someone then the Democratic party is your home, if you have morals, values and integrity, then the Republican party is where you need to be.

    May 6, 2009 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  23. Kristen

    Our sensible Founders were against political parties for this reason. They believed that a person should serve by their conscience NOT public opinion or party line. If Specter continues to be a voice of reason and sense, then he deserves to stay. If he votes party line to gain clout, then he should go. I think he is making a point about both parties though. If the Dems think they now have a "Supermajority" to ram any old BS down our throats, they are wrong. If the Republicans think that they can continue to be the party of exclusion and hate and get elected, they are wrong.

    May 6, 2009 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  24. Benedict Arnold

    Good going Arlen. Really like how you played the "faith" card, too. Come on! Coleman ought to be seated because he's Jewish. What a yutz!

    Joe Sestak is running against Specter in the Democratic Primary and I hope Pennsylvanians support him. Now if we can get Tom Ridge the GOP nomination over Tomey then we may see how the two party system should work (i.e. two great public servants of integrity with differing viewpoints). What a thought!

    May 6, 2009 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  25. Michael

    He can and should get his seniority back, but he's going to have to prove that his conversion is a bit more sincere than he has demonstrated to date. Absent this display of support for Democrats, he'll continue to lack seniority and he'll be challenged in the primary.

    May 6, 2009 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
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