Sen. Specter Switches Political Parties, Gives Democrats Likely Filibuster-Proof Majority
Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) on Tuesday announced that he is leaving the Republican party to become a Democrat, a move that has "implications across a broad swath of policy areas as the Obama administration tees up massive governmental reforms on health care" and other areas, Roll Call reports. Specter would be the 59th Democrat in the Senate, and if Democrat Al Franken is announced the winner of a Senate race in Minnesota, the majority party would have 60 votes and be able to block any Republican filibuster. Franken leads the race by 312 votes, but those results are being challenged in court (Palmer, Roll Call, 4/29).
Specter in a statement said, "As the Republican Party has moved farther and farther to the right, I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy and more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party." He also noted that he made the decision after learning from his pollster that he likely would lose the 2010 Republican primary election for his Senate seat (Retter, New York Post, 4/29). When contacted by President Obama about his announcement, Specter told the president, "I'm a loyal Democrat," adding, "I support your agenda" (Weisman/Hitt, Wall Street Journal, 4/29). However, Specter said he would not become an "automatic" 60th vote to invoke cloture on Democrat-supported legislation, Politico reports (Rogers, Politico, 4/29).
The Wall Street Journal reports, "With his re-election looming, Mr. Specter will be under pressure to rally the support of Democrats," which "could mean he will have to hew closely to the president's wishes on areas such as retooling the health care system" (Wall Street Journal, 4/29). Specter is known to be a strong supporter of increased spending on medical research and related causes, according to the Washington Post (Kane et al., Washington Post, 4/29).
The Obama administration and Democratic lawmakers applauded the announcement and welcomed Specter into their ranks. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.H.) said Specter's decision "has confirmed that we were right about where we want to take America" (New York Post, 4/29). Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said Specter's switch is a "transformative" and "game-changing" development.
However, Republicans expressed concerns that such a majority would give Democrats unchecked power. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, "The danger of that for the country is that there won't automatically be an ability to restrain the excess that is typically associated with big majorities and single-party rule" (Hulse/Nagourney, New York Times, 4/29). House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) noted that Specter's switch is not guaranteed to give Democrats an easy victory on every issue. He said, "On some very partisan issues, it may hurt us," but there are "a dozen Democrats to the right of Specter as it was." Boehner said, "I'm not sure it's going to be a net negative at the end of the day" (Dinan/Lengell, Washington Times, 4/29).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Wednesday reported on Specter's decision and the significance of it coming on Obama's 100th day in office (Liasson/Montagne, "Morning Edition," NPR, 4/29).