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. bill

    Senator specter deserved this . He said he was not a loyal republican and then he said he wanted the Minnesota supreme court to award the seat to Norm Coleman. I think Senator specter needs to know that you should not cheer for the other team. Although senator Lieberman got away with it.

    May 6, 2009 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  2. librarian

    The GOP is pathetic. Period.

    May 6, 2009 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  3. Larry

    Specter could care less where he is in highschool pecking orders

    He is in the Senate to get things done ... his one vote like all others, is equal

    May 6, 2009 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  4. Molly

    Ha...that's awesome! Just goes to show you the spine less cowards we have in D.C.!

    May 6, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  5. Nickernacker

    You're all missing the point: Spector was the senior republican of the judiciary commitee. If they honored his seniority, he would wind up the chair. That's the commitee in charge of supreme court nominations. Justice Souter just retired, which means a new appointment is in the offing. Do you think the Dems would put a newly minted ex-republican in charge of that utterly crucial process? Espescially one with a history of loyalty problems, and given the GOP's chicanery?

    What a great scheme that would be, have a republican senator switch sides to be put in charge of sabotaging the nomination process. I'm not saying that was the plan, but I wouldn't put that past the GOP.

    May 6, 2009 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  6. Jack behar

    Specter – the Defecter...
    Never loyal Republican and will never be loyal Democrat.
    Specter – Just another "backstabber" and just loyal to himself

    May 6, 2009 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  7. Some guy from WI

    Wow, the inability of people to read is astounding. The vote was unanimous. The DEMS stripped him of his seniority. I was under the impression that this switch was agreed to with the understanding that he would keep his seniority.

    Bad move from the Dems, and I am a Dem.

    May 6, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  8. Larry

    This was a planned on, and expected move by all involved

    No news here

    May 6, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  9. JD

    If there's one thing that Specter the Defector should have learned from history, it's that nobody trusts a traitor, even (and especially) when they join their own camp.

    Arlen Specter is now nothing but the proverbial poster child for congressional term limits. He's not focused on serving anyone's interests but his own. We have term limits on the presidency for a reason. Congress should not be exempt.

    May 6, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  10. Andi

    If all you people are so angry and have such strong 'opinions' on who is right or wrong, who is smart or an 'idiot' and the definitions of 'treason' (hint: it has nothing to do with switching a political party affiliations) may I suggest you turn your negative energy into something useful and either:

    – Run for office yourself
    – Write/call your elected reps in DC and let them know how you feel
    – Get involved in the 'issues' you are ranting about instead of sitting on the sofa whining
    – Help others in need – unless helping others is a 'handout' in your mind, then, please stay at home
    – Quit with the cutsey names and biblical nicknames for OUR President and open a dictionary or history book
    – Look inside yourself or visit local clergy and excorcise your hate before it eats you alive

    May 6, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  11. Candy West Virginia

    Smart move dems because although I welcome him to the party he can't be depended on to vote our way all the time.

    May 6, 2009 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  12. Jack New Jersey

    Switching parties is not a precondition for voting your conscience in Congress.The institution and the country would be far better off with the expectation that elected officials will cross party lines on some issues. Bloc voting in the name of party is not representation but rather the "rule" of many by the few. Leaders of both parties use rewards and threat to force bloc voting which is a sad testimony of the current state of Washington. The willingness of "our" elected officials to be managed this way is a reflection of personal ambition and ambition being sacrificed for self benefit. The senator did not have to change parties to vote his conscience and delivering the Democrats (or the Republicans)ithis power is a disgrace.It was done for pure personal gain by tring to remain in office by using Pa. Democrats.

    May 6, 2009 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  13. MPeter

    Specter hasnot been particularly reliable. The first thing out of his mouth is to tell us that he will not be loyal. Then he goes on vote against the President's agenda. As if that is not enough, he openly supports Coleman while, still expecting to keep seniority as a Dem and, to run unchallenged! Who does he think he is?

    May 6, 2009 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  14. economator

    President Washington warned of the dangers of parties in his farewell address. He said that representatives would put party above country. For over more than two hundred years, his prediction has held true.

    Get rid of the party system and let each run on his/her own merits.

    May 6, 2009 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  15. Abel

    He is the newest democrat in the senate. As such he has the lowest seniority, they simply wanted to insure that he would not be elevated above the members of the senate who have always been loyal democrats.

    May 6, 2009 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  16. Lori, Houston Texas

    I have no qualms with Specter losing his seniority. Like I tell my kids: If you want the benefits of being treated like an adult, you have to accept the responsibilities too. Choices have consequences. Just like elections. This is life.

    May 6, 2009 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  17. Teresa

    Wow how sad! A person can't even follow their convictions without repercusions. Boy politics are nothing but a big game!

    May 6, 2009 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  18. Lori

    I'm sorry, but that was a really rotten thing to do to him. He turned his back on the GOP and the Dems are going to treat him like this? If I were him I would become an independent and forget both parties.

    May 6, 2009 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  19. Don

    He should be stripped, and the dems should be very cautious because this guy is only out for himself. He should be voted out!!!!!!!!!

    May 6, 2009 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  20. Nickernacker

    After the last 8 years, it always tickles me when Republicans complain about how full of hate Democrats are. As if NO Republican would EVER say anything nasty about a liberal. After decades of being called wimps, traitors and terrorist sympathizers for worrying about the morality of torture, starving Americans and the Bill of Rights. As if after 8 years of ruinous Republican rule the Democrats don't have a right to be peeved. They must teach classes in advanced hypocricy in the mega-churches, or perhaps only those with a true gift for double standards and faux-moral-outrage become Republicans?

    If we were really full of hate Dubya would be in the Hague right now!

    May 6, 2009 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  21. Albert, Philadelphia

    So the Democrats have stripped your seniority this is where you have landed in the Democratic Senate seat. When and Where are you going to jump out of this seat.? I guess, your own seat at home.

    May 6, 2009 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  22. IndyVoter

    So what? Seniority is more than just words on a paper or numbers on a roll. No matter what his # is, they can't take away his experience, his record or reputation, nor his personal and professional relationships that he has built up in the Senate all of these years. Most of the negotiating goes on behind the scenes, away from the offices anyway...He'll be just fine.

    May 6, 2009 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  23. Pam

    Two words people..."TERM LIMITS"

    May 6, 2009 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  24. Minnesotan

    I just enjoy reading the pathetic hate-filled posts by the conservative writers. They're always amusing, illiterate and avoid facts like Mexican Swine Flu.

    May 6, 2009 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  25. Douglas

    This is all meaningless. There are people on Committee's who have more power than others. They are called "Chairperson." He was not Chairperson of any Committee as a Republican because they are a minority party. He was just another Senator with 29 years of seniority. He's in the exact same position now. He can't Chair anything. So what. He still has 29 years and alot of pull.

    And by the way, stabbing Republicans in the back is always good practice. Thanks Senator Specter for having some guts.

    May 6, 2009 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
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