And the Cheese Stands Alone


Maybe it was telling the New York Times that he’s rooting for Norm Coleman in Minnesota that pushed the Democrats over the edge?

The Senate last night stripped Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) of his seniority on committees, a week after the 29-year veteran of the chamber quit the Republican Party to join the Democrats.

In announcing his move across the aisle last week, Specter asserted that Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) had assured him he would retain his seniority in the Senate and on the five committees on which he serves. Specter’s tenure ranked him ahead of all but seven Democrats.

Instead, though, on a voice vote last night, the Senate approved a resolution that made Specter the most junior Democrat on four committees for the remainder of this Congress. (He will rank second from last on the fifth, the Special Committee on Aging.) Reid himself read the resolution on the Senate floor, underscoring the reversal.

Specter added insult to injury by making it clear he thought himself entitled to keep his seniority, even though he would have been cutting in line ahead of qualified Democrats:

Democratic staffers say Reid may have tolerated Specter’s early splits with the party if he hadn’t simultaneously been so vocal in claiming he was entitled to keep his seniority and leapfrog over veteran Democrats on some of the Senate’s most powerful committees.

Specter’s claim that he’d been promised as much sparked an in-house rebellion among longtime Democratic foot soldiers, including Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of an Appropriations subcommittee who would have been passed over by the more senior Specter, said it would have been an unfair move.

“When you get to be a chairman, you really have some control of that area, and that’s what makes it interesting for me. … Somebody comes in on top — then everybody gets bumped. Then somebody gets bumped from the committee. That’s a very hard thing if you’ve got 14 years having been on that committee. Obviously you’d like to stay where you are. I understand how people feel about it.”

Feinstein said she’s heard other members complain about Specter keeping his seniority, too. “It’s a concern, and I think Sen. Specter will understand that.”

By Tuesday night, Reid had no option but to strip Specter of his seniority, staffers with knowledge of the situation say. Reid preserved a vestige of his original promise to Specter by vowing to revisit the matter after the 2010 midterms.

“Whenever you have a party switch like this, there has to be give and take, negotiation, and I think that’s what happened here,” said Democrat Bob Casey, Pennsylvania’s other senator.

“I think the reality is between now and then is — is he on the team or not?” a senior Democratic aide said Wednesday. “If he’s instrumental in getting health care done, I imagine his position in the caucus after 2010 will be substantially strengthened.”

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