May 11th, 2010
03:13 PM ET
11 years ago

Specter to CNN: No 'knee jerk reaction' on Kagan nomination

Washington (CNN) - Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pennsylvania, the only Senate Democrat to oppose Elena Kagan in the past, told CNN Tuesday he will not be pushed into declaring how he will vote on her Supreme Court nomination before Democratic primary voters decide next week whether to re-elect him.

"People would expect me to make a judgment after the hearing has been held, after we know what her views are and when the process has taken its course, people will not expect me to make a knee jerk reaction before I know the facts and the issues," Specter told CNN.

Specter voted against Kagan's nomination for Solicitor General last year. Back then, he was a Republican. Now he's in a neck and neck fight to keep his seat by winning the Democratic nomination in Pennsylvania's May 18 primary. Some polls show him now trailing his opponent, Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pennsylvania.

Sestak is seizing on Specter's vote against Kagan for Solicitor General and accusing him of political opportunism and "backtracking" now.

Sestak is also banking on the fact that most Democratic primary voters would want their Democratic Senator to back President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, and is suggesting after next week's primary, Democratic voters won't be able to hold him accountable.

"The people of Pennsylvania have no way of knowing where he [Specter] will stand after May 18th," said Sestak in a statement Monday.

But in an interview in Specter's Capitol Hill office, he dismissed that.

"Well the voters expect me to do a job under the Constitution which requires going through the questioning and evaluating her performance. Congressman Sestak may be prepared to tell how he is going to vote before he knows what the issues are and what the facts are but I don't," said Specter.

In voting against Kagan for Solicitor General last year, Specter said he was frustrated that she would not answer his repeated attempts to find out where she stood on various issues.

He said he knows it will be even harder to get answers now.

"When you are up for Supreme Court Justice the tradition is that you don't ask a nominee how they would decide a specific case because of judicial independence," said Specter, "I have an open mind, I have been in a lot of confirmation proceedings, and I'm looking forward to it."

Specter's campaign released a new television ad in Pennsylvania Tuesday featuring President Obama's strong endorsement.

During the brief interview with CNN, Specter alluded to President Obama's support several times, and said that the President wouldn't expect him to announce his position on Kagan's nomination at this point.

"When President Obama first endorsed me months ago, he said he did not expect an automatic vote from Arlen Specter, he knows better than that," said Specter.

"My whole record is one of independence. He wants me to perform my constitutional duty, separation of powers, to evaluate the nominee in a thoughtful way. He trusts my judgment and I think the people of Pennsylvania do too," said Specter.

Specter switched parties last year when it became clear to him he could not win a Republican primary. He argued he could still help Pennsylvanians with his experience and seniority, and that becoming a Democrat was his best shot at succeeding.

But that pro-incumbent argument has lost its punch in such an anti-incumbent election year.

When asked if he made a political miscalculation about the atmosphere, Specter said he believes its only an anti-incumbent year "because people are dissatisfied with all the bickering and partisanship."

"My entire career in the Senate has been one of bipartisanship. I have crossed the aisle consistently," said Specter.

And what about primary voters who tend to demand purity over bipartisanship?

"I believe the primary voters want a thoughtful Senator who will make a considered judgment after knowing all the facts," said Specter, "and they don't expect me to come down with a decision on a Supreme Court nominee until there have been hearings and an opportunity to reflect on it and make that kind of considered judgment."

Filed under: 2010 • Arlen Specter • Elena Kagan • Pennsylvania • Supreme Court
soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. SocialismBad

    TWO pictures of Arlen Specter on the Ticker at the same time??!!! I'm starting to vomit! PLEASE stop this madness!

    May 11, 2010 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  2. Terri

    I wonder what reasons he gave for not voting for her last year, and whether those doubts have been answered in the past year that she has severed as solicitor general?

    May 11, 2010 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  3. The Clear Thinking Independent

    Arlen Specter – recommend you get onboard as soon as possible ... and then pray too!

    May 11, 2010 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  4. Bedtime for Obonzo

    Adios, Arlen.

    May 11, 2010 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  5. Cosmo

    Christi, I don't understand your response to my comment that Kagan is not qualified because she has never been a judge. I did not say that there is no historical precedent for a justice to be appointed who has no judicial experience, I expressed my opinion (as a practicing lawyer) that the position merits someone with experience. Please read carefully before responding to someone's opinion.

    May 11, 2010 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  6. Mark Republican in PA

    Specter has never been one to just follow the party line even when he was a Republican. He always asks the right questions and investigates the issue before him thoroughly before deciding on how he will vote. He always considers the people he represents as a whole, not just a few at the fringes. To Label him like Sestack is doing is like using Carl Rove tactics and just plain wrong. We don't need a right wing conservative democrat in the Senate, we someone who listens to everyone. I voted for Specter when he was a Republican and will vote for him as a Democrat if the Democrats put him up again. Otherwise I will vote for Toomey.

    May 11, 2010 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  7. Walter, Long Beach

    Time is almost up, Arlen. If you tell people that you will vote for Kagan, you look like the worst kind of political opportunist. If you say that you will oppose her again, Penn. Democrats will never give you the nomination.

    Kind of s..ks when cowardice is your only option.

    May 11, 2010 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  8. Pragmatic

    Sensible statement ...

    One republican has already announced he will be voting "no" (so what else do republicans do!) even before the hearings! Talk about closed mind: and he gets paid just for showing up?

    May 11, 2010 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  9. jenn, philadelphia

    this could be his last official business as a Senator. After he loses the primary in May to Sestack (which would be irony and karma), he'll be a lame duck.

    May 11, 2010 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  10. josefina

    Specter knew how many people did not want the health care bill and despite knowing all the facts, still voted for it. Now he'll get all the facts on Kagan and then vote for her....Specter: Are you now or have you ever been a lesbian? Kagan: Yes sir, I am a homosexual. Specter: Thank you, you have my vote.

    May 11, 2010 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  11. Willy Brown

    This guy will do or say anything. Flip-Flop-Flip-Flop Specter

    May 11, 2010 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  12. Johnny DC

    If you didn't think she was fit to be the Solicitor General, and then you turn around and support her nomination for the SCOTUS, you will be validating the opinions of your opponents – primarily that you are a flipflopping joke of a man who has no business participating in important decisions.

    I cannot wait to hear Specter try and explain the NO turned YES vote on Kagan.

    May 11, 2010 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  13. nini

    Mr. Specter you are the definition of what is wrong with Washington.

    I truly believe that Pennsylvania deserves better than you.
    Enough is enough how may more times we should try the same thing looking for better results. Under any label D or R you are OUT.

    May 11, 2010 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  14. Dennis

    Apparently he's already done that.

    May 11, 2010 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  15. jean

    Look if Specter votes in favor if Kagan now it will just be icing on the cake that Democrats do what is best for them and their lock-step crowd as opposed to what is best for the country. I will not be surprised if he turns tail and votes for her now – it will be typical democratic hypocrisy at work once again. I WILL be surprised if he actually sticks to his guns and votes against her as he did last time, but I am not holding my breath.

    May 11, 2010 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  16. RAG

    And Specter is an authority on jerks. I wonder what he said when Shrub tried to nominate his cleaning lady. What was her name?

    May 11, 2010 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  17. lee stann

    I am a democrat and think it is time for Spector to retire, in fact many in congress both democrats and republicans just step down, many do nothing for the people, like not wanting health care for all american people and most of our politicans have done nothing to secure
    the borders for the last 30 years!!!!!

    May 11, 2010 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  18. JES

    What a dip I guess if he doesn't win the primary he will vote with the DEMs and if he does he will vote with the DEMs.

    This is a really great Senator at work talk about a jerk.

    What's you sign big boy.

    May 11, 2010 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  19. Capt. Snarky

    Right about now, Arlen would wash your underwear if you vote for him........

    May 11, 2010 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  20. Sniffit

    "the only Senate Democrat to oppose Elena Kagan in the past"

    He was a GOPer at the time. Everyone knows they goose step like fascist Rockets.

    May 11, 2010 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  21. BeverlyNC

    Unlike Republicans who have already decided they will fight against Kagan (what a shock), the real leaders in Congress should take their time to get to know Kagan.

    Her resume and real life experiences are very appealing and her experience of clerking at the Supreme Court and being appointed Solicitor General – which Republicans supported back then when they actually were serving the People. I love the chance to have 3 women on the Court as well.

    May 11, 2010 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  22. Mike Brooks

    Kagan represents the Northeast mindset that has a stranglehold on he court. Your average Northeast "progressive" might as well be an alien for all of the shared values they have with Westerners. Think about the West's outcry, fury, really, over how teams were selected for just the football championship games and you might have a cue as to how upset we are at the blind stupidity that led this President to even suggest another Northeastern big government "progressive" for the Supreme Court! (and Neoconservatives are big government progressives, too). One shudders to think of Kagan sharing the ideology of Michael Bloomberg, Dana Millbank and like "progressives" who would curb Bill Of Rights privileges for people they merely suspect of wrong doing or sympathy for "terrorism".

    I, for one, am tired of being forgotten and overlooked by the Washington and New York elite. If President Obama doesn't see it now, he will. Every representative from the West should reject this nominee and throw the process back in the President's face. Enough is enough. If this fool cannot see his way to propose a genuine Westerner to the Supreme Court, the Senate needs to hold up the process until we can get rid of him and find someone who understands that there is a country West of the Mississippi.

    May 11, 2010 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  23. Larry

    Judging from the polls the people of Pennsylvania have finally wised up about this clown.

    Gawd, Specter, can you take a stand on anything? You are the most wishy-wasy person I've ever met in my life.

    May 11, 2010 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  24. Proud DEM

    This man is not a Democrat....should of stayed with the party of "hell" no...WE Dems need to stick together, get things moving in the right direction and start standing up to the negative rhetoric spin that the Teapuklicants are pushing.... WE ARE THE MAJORITY!! Act like it!!

    May 11, 2010 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |