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. dan in Tucson

    If the republican party have swayed too far from his beliefs, then he is justified in switching. But needs to start over and I am sure he expects that.
    How many opposers to Spectors decision have been through a divorce. If they have, they are hypocrites.

    May 6, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  2. Bryant

    For all the people telling the Republicans to grow up, please read the entire article. The Senate passed the "resolution, which set out committee assignments for the entire Senate, was approved on a unanimous voice vote." That means the Democrats in the Senate voted against him also. So why are only the Republicans to grow up? Why don't all of you grow up? It is what it is.

    May 6, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  3. Jen

    The point is, ANYONE who decides to change their affiliation, no matter from which party to which party, should have this sort of action taken. It would cause them to think twice before they hurt their party like he did by leaving. It is one way to make them think twice. After all, they hurt their constituents and themselves by being wishy washy. Specter was a bad Republican, and apparently at one time a bad Dem. I wish him well, but I could never have voted for him either way. And I most certainly wouldn't now.

    May 6, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  4. Typical Repug

    If he votes with Obama he will keep his day job.

    That's the difference between Dems and Repugs. The Dems allowed Lieberman to keep his senior committee position–Repugs are cut-throat and vendictive.

    May 6, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  5. Proud DHS radical

    I would bet that if Specter were not to win the democratic primary than he will simply declare himself an independent and run against both parties nominee. Joe Libermann can give him a few tips on just how to do that.

    May 6, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  6. shucks

    The dems didn't do anything that the repulicans wouldn't have done had the whole scenario been reversed. The democrats are thrilled to have such a great Senator as Specter to join their ranks, and as Micheal Steele called it, shoot the republican party the bird. Pretty much what over half of the country and the majority of the rest of the world would like to do.

    May 6, 2009 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  7. S.M

    Of course he should have seen this coming. Who will the GOP pick to take his place; Sarah Palin or Rush Limbaugh?

    May 6, 2009 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  8. SC

    For what reason would Democrats want to turn a friend into an enemy? They are crushing the chance to bring about change to Republican Party and steer them away from Far Right.

    Oh, that's the reason, for the good of Democratic Party, but not the country. Same old partisan politic.

    May be Arlen Specter should change to independent now, ditch the two Grand OLD Parties. There should be a rebellion.

    May 6, 2009 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  9. LINDA

    I am proud to be a DEMOCRAT", so is Mr. Spector he saw what was coming with the dumb republicans and decided to change parties,nothing wrong with that I to would have gone with the winner's anyway-who wants a be on a losing team the repubs have no leg to stand on, they are not going anywhere in politics because of their greed, lies,and continueous dissing our President and not trying to be bypardisom with him, everything he does they are apposed they will never regain their respect from the american people if they don't get on the stick and do what is right-I hope they never recover from their defeat,because its been a long time coming for them to be explorted,they are only getting what they asked for & what they deserve,for treating the american people and lying to them all these decades-they forgot what goes around comes around,and they haven't seen anything yet until they change for the better if they know how.Mr. Spector made a beautiful choice to switch he knows just where his bread and butter is coming from-you go MR.SPECTOR-thanks for joining the winning side.

    May 6, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  10. Dennis

    Tom ridge will be the next Senator from Pennsylvania. Actually, he should be the Vice President now.

    May 6, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  11. a Republican

    When all republicans stick together as a unit on matters involving policy, you KNOW they are PARTISANS not PATRIOTS!! Good that you recognize the difference Senator Specter.

    May 6, 2009 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  12. Jeff

    I can't believe some of you are blaming the Republican party for Specter's loss of seniority. He switched to the Democratic party, and the Democratic party determines seniority of its members on committees (ditto for the Republican party). It was his own new (old) Democratic party that stripped him of seniority, not his former Republican colleagues.

    A classic case of bait-and-switch.
    "Psst. Hey, Arlen, jump ship to our side and give us the super-majority we need to run this country with impunity, and we'll take of you."
    "Okay, fellows, done."
    "Good, now go sit in the back of the class, bub, we're giving this front-row seat to someone else. We'll call you if we need you."

    May 6, 2009 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  13. bsmith

    What is so facinating to me is the absolute hatred that Democrats seem to have for Republicans. That alone is a scary scenario and several of these people call themselves loyal Americans. I would suggest if they demonstrate such hatred towards others or demean others because of their party affiliation, they leave this country and go elsewhere. Spector is just another example of what is wrong with this country. He is only concerned for himself and not his fellow Americans. If I was from PA I would be absolutely inscensed about him changing, making announcements and then obviously being not only wrong about his seniority but showing a total lack of integrity, intelligence and sence of caring towards his fellow citizens.

    May 6, 2009 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  14. samwright23

    I guess the democrates don't really want his vote. Or at least they don't act like it. Perhaps they don't want a filibuster proof majority afterall...b/c then when something goes wrong they have no excuses anymore. It's all on them.

    May 6, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  15. Casey

    If Arlen Spector was a selfish person, he would not have endangered his seniority, idiots. He followed his convictions, making a point of saying that the GOP is no longer in touch with moderate Americans.

    I am surprised that Democrats went along with stripping him of seniority but on second thought, maybe not... many of those same Democrats are themselves SELFISH and SELF-CONCERNED and SELF-INTERESTED individuals who participated in the Party of No's last 8 years of ruining this country.

    Maybe it's time to get rid of THEM. Let's get folks in there who A) are interested in the plight of REAL AMERICANS, not CORPORTATIONS AND BANKS... and B) are not CAREER politicians - how about some people UNDER the age of Crypt-keeper?

    Don't get me wrong... I'm over 50 myself. But I believe those folks have a vested interest in keeping corporations and banks and their own rewards working for themselves - and they are HARDLY "average Americans".

    Maybe it's time for a third party majority.

    May 6, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  16. Andrew

    The only people Spector has to answer to is the people in PA not the whole country. If he is not your Senator why should you care. Most of you seem to be attacking the Republicans for this. If I am not mistaken the Democrats have control of the Sentate. Which means they should have control of the committe as well. As for a party of change I dont see the change.

    May 6, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  17. AnnMM

    This was a bipartisan act people... not just the Republican's being petty. However, I still don't understand it. He has still been a senator for all these years, what difference does it make if it's as a Democrat or Republican.

    I don't like Congress.

    May 6, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  18. bk

    Natasha, it was the Democratic Senators who voted to strip him of his seniority, not the Republicans.

    May 6, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  19. lynn in NM

    You got what you deserved Arlen. All they want is your vote. I hope it was worth it.

    May 6, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  20. LAllen

    To those complaining that "Republicans" exacted revenge for his defection, let it be known that it was DEMOCRATS who stripped him of his seniority – remember, even without him they control 58 of the current 99 votes and could have done whatever they wanted – they didn't want him to jump over longer standing Democrats and didn't care what Sen. Reid promised him. He got what he deserved – he will not profit from jumping ship.

    May 6, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  21. Gary in Oregon

    This was bad form. Bad form.

    May 6, 2009 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  22. joe, S C

    He is to old to be in the congress anyway, he should have retired years ago.

    May 6, 2009 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  23. Barb

    Must be a slow news day! Not exactly the first time anyone switched parties. Looks like the media is trying to create an issue that's a non-issue. He may have dropped to the bottom of the comittee but you can't take away the number of years he's served. He can still say he's served 29 years and that you can't take away. So he speaks last–isn't the last to speak the one you remember?

    May 6, 2009 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  24. Mariann Pepitone

    Spector should retire and sit in his rocking chair. He is 79 years old and has been a senator too long. There should be term limits for senators like the president has or age limits. Kennedy, Reid , Lieberman and republican McCain should also retire. They don't want to give up the power or the money which they don't need and its time for the younger set to be in the senate and there are a lot of them out there that could run. We need changes in this country.

    May 6, 2009 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  25. jwkpiano1

    That's impossible, radical. Pennsylvania has a "sore loser" law that makes that illegal.

    May 6, 2009 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
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