Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter will switch his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat and announced today that he will run in 2010 as a Democrat, according to a statement he released this morning.
Specter’s decision would give Democrats a 60 seat filibuster proof majority in the Senate assuming Democrat Al Franken is eventually sworn in as the next Senator from Minnesota. (Former Sen. Norm Coleman is appealing Franken’s victory in the state Supreme Court.)
“I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary,” said Specter in a statement. “I am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers and have my candidacy for re-election determined in a general election.”
He added: “Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.”
1. I sure hope the Democrats got some kind of assurances about how Specter would vote going forward, because he needed them way more than they needed him. Given that he’s reiterated his opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act, the opening stanza isn’t too promising.
2. In many ways, this really doesn’t change much. Yes, assuming Sen. Al Franken gets seated sometime before he stands for re-election, this gives the Democrats the magic number of 60 members. The thing is, Senate Democrats have been a bigger obstacle to President Obama’s agenda than any other group. Conservative Dems such as Sen. Ben Nelson have the leverage to foil, water down, or otherwise pimp to their liking just about anything Obama wants to push. Specter’s switch doesn’t change this dynamic at all.
3. Having said that, there is a way in which Specter’s switch could have a profound effect:
Arlen Specter (R-PA) is rumored to be ready to become Arlen Specter (D-PA). There are a million aspects of that worth examining. But here’s one for process nuts. Check out the Senate Judiciary Committee Rules:
IV. BRINGING A MATTER TO A VOTE
The Chairman shall entertain a non-debatable motion to bring a matter before the Committee to a vote. If there is objection to bring the matter to a vote without further debate, a roll call vote of the Committee shall be taken, and debate shall be terminated if the motion to bring the matter to a vote without further debate passes with ten votes in the affirmative, one of which must be cast by the minority.
Your current lineup of Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee:
Which of these fellas do you think will be ready to provide the necessary one vote from the minority to bring things to a vote in the committee on tough questions now?
Specter is caucusing with the Democrats, but he’s still a Republican as far as committee assignments go, and will be one until there’s a new organizing resolution. Same for all the other committees he’s on. Democrats were always going to call for a new organizing resolution once Franken gets seated. Now, maybe they’re willing to let that process play out. Which poison do you think the Senate GOPers would prefer to choose – the fox in the henhouse, or Senator Sixty? Decisions, decisions…
4. Speaking of which, how does this affect the KBH will-she-stay-or-will-she-resign equation? Short answer: beats the beck out of me. On the one hand, you’d think Sen. Cornyn would want her to stay that much more. On the other hand, once Franken is in place, as he inevitably will be, what difference does it make? As always, the answer is “Who knows what KBH will do?”
5. Having said that, prepare to have your mind blown even further. I don’t see any way in which this happens, nor do I see rank and file Democrats being that thrilled at the prospect, for better or worse. But crazier things have happened, and there is an objective logic to it.
6. Dealing with party switchers in general causes headaches and almost always comes with a fair bit of bellyaching up front. Which is totally understandable, especially in the case of someone as obviously calculating and driven by self-interest as Specter is. I get where people like Atrios are coming from, I really do, and it’s completely possible that what we’ll get is a nominal Democrat who doesn’t really change his behavior in any meaningful way. Even worse, we may be sacrificing the chance to elect a better Democrat in 2010 and risk losing to a Republican who’s slightly less crazy than Pat Toomey (not a high bar to clear), since the case against Specter pretty much writes itself. He’s going to have to prove himself, and I hope Dems like Joe Sestak keep their powder dry until it’s clear that Specter is walking the walk. Here in Texas, we’ve had some very good results, as State Rep. Kirk England has been a fine member of the Democratic caucus, and State Sen. Wendy Davis (who had some Republican voting history but had never held office as a Republican) is a rising star having by my count an outstanding freshman session. Whether or not the past stays in the past depends entirely on what happens going forward. It’s totally up to Sen. Specter.
7. Finally, whatever else this is about, I love Specter’s rationale for switching. It’s an acknowledgment of reality, something which his now-former colleagues have less and less experience with these days. Once upon a time, party switchers helped the GOP grow bigger and stronger. Now it’s helping them grow smaller and weaker. I couldn’t be happier about that.