In it, but not of it. TPM DC

At his press conference just now, Sen. Arlen Specter (RD-PA) had a brief answer to the question of whether he now supported Dawn Johnsen's nomination to be chief of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. In short, no.

Now, there's a familiar vagueness to the question, and therefore to the answer. Specter said he "opposes" Johnsen, but, as with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), that doesn't mean he'll vote to filibuster her nomination. We'll get a clearer answer on that question as soon as possible.

Late update: Specter's staff has no updates on the senator's position on cloture, but more details could be forthcoming soon.

At his press conference just now, Arlen Specter said bluntly that he was switching parties because of the serious prospect of losing his primary and he also said he will not be voting for cloture on the Employee Free Choice Act.

Specter said he supported the stimulus bill because he did not want to risk another 1929-style depression. And afterwards, he said he travelled his state -- and looked at poll data with his campaign staff -- finding that his chances in the GOP primary were "bleak."

"I'm not prepared to have my 29-year record in the United States Senate decided by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate," said Specter, "not prepared to have that record decided by that jury."

And he stressed his personal independence. "I note that some of the news stories since my statement was released this morning are taking a look at the 60th vote -- and I will not be an automatic 60th vote," said Specter. "And I would illustrate that by my position on employee's choice, also known as card check. I think it is a bad bill, and I'm opposed to it and would not vote to invoke cloture."

Late Update: Here's Specter discussing EFCA:

As I hinted at in my previous post, it will be interesting (and important) to see what happens to Specter vis-a-vis the Judiciary Committee. Will he simply move on to the other side of Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and become the committee's senior Democrat? Or will there be more complicated machinations. Did leadership offer him a sweet deal that hasn't yet been revealed? And what does this mean for, among other issues, the nomination of Dawn Johnsen?

We'll try to get answers for all of those questions for you, but for now, here's Leahy's statement on the news of the day.

Senator Specter called me this morning. He and I have been friends for 40 years. We first met when we were both young prosecutors. We have a particular friendship, and he wanted me to know before it became in the press.

In talking with him, I had the impression that he went through much the same that Jim Jeffords of Vermont did. I had the impression that Senator Specter had a feeling that the Republican Party, a great party in this country, had left him - not the other way around.

I know how hard he has agonized. I believe he's going to be happier.

Answer: Still unclear. Everyone on the Hill is referring such questions to the Majority Leader's office, and the Majority Leader's office isn't saying much. The Democrats (including Harry Reid himself) are wrapping up their weekly caucus lunch and Reid has scheduled a press conference for 2:45. We'll keep our eye on it.

There are at least two important questions that still need to be answered. First, what will Specter's committee assignments be now that he's a Democrat. And second, who will replace him on his current committees now that he's switching over. He was, of course, ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and, for good measure, ranking member on subcommittees in the Environment and Public Works Committee and the Appropriations Committee. Those positions will now have to be handed down to other Republicas.

More on all that later. But for now, keep in mind that the next most senior minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee is Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). He used to chair that committee, and there may be term limit rules that prevent him from taking Specter's place. Behind Hatch are Iowa's Chuck Grassley (ranking member on Senate Finance) and Arizona's Jon Kyl (the minority whip). If they don't swap out those coveted positions for Specter's slot on Judiciary, next in line would be...Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).

Joe Torsella, former head of the National Constitution Center and currently a candidate for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania in 2010 -- the seat now held by Arlen Specter -- has put out this statement saying he's still in the race:

"I decided to run for the United States Senate from Pennsylvania for one simple reason: I believe we need new leadership, new ideas, and new approaches in Washington. It's become obvious that the old ways of doing business might have worked for the special interests, but they haven't worked for the rest of us.

"Nothing about today's news regarding Senator Specter changes that, or my intention to run for the Democratic nomination to the Senate in 2010 - an election that is still a full year away."

Torsella raised $593,000 in the past quarter, and had $583,000 cash on hand. By contrast, Specter brought in $1.28 million, and has $6.74 million cash on hand, and is likely to have the full backing of the Democratic establishment against Torsella or any other Democratic primary challenger.

The national Democratic Party is already celebrating the party switch of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-turned-D-PA), with the DCCC sending out an e-mail thanking supporters for bringing change to America.

That's right, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, not the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Your incredible grassroots support for President Obama's economic agenda is not only proving that the Republicans' "just say no" approach is wrong for America but it's also helping drive proud Democratic candidates like Scott Murphy to victory and driving courageous leaders like Senator Specter away from their party.

Thank you again for keeping up the fight to bring change to Washington.

Technically speaking this is not a fundraising letter, as there's no explicit appeal for money, though there is standard link at the bottom asking for contributions.

Full e-mail after the jump.

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The Toomey campaign has weighed in on Sen. Arlen Specter's decision to become a Democrat (and, therefore, to drop out of the Pennsylvania Republican primary).

"Senator Specter's decision is in keeping with his record. He is more at home in the Democratic Party than the Republican Party. That has been true for decades, not just true today.

In recent weeks, Senator Specter has made numerous statements about how important it is to deny Democrats the 60th seat in the U.S. Senate and how he categorically intended to remain a Republican to prevent one-party dominance in Washington.

What Pennsylvanians must now ask themselves is whether Senator Specter is in fact devoted to any principle other than his own reelection.

Emphasis mine. And Toomey has a point. Just last month, Specter said, "I think each of the 41 Republican senators, in a sense -- and I don't want to overstate this -- is a national asset.... [I]f one was gone, you'd only have 40, the Democrats would have 60, and they would control all of the mechanisms of government."

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) briefly spoke to reporters outside his office today, saying he would explain his plans at a press conference this afternoon.

A reporter asked Specter what he would say to a crowd of his visiting constituents -- who for their part then began applauding. "I don't have to say anything to them," said Specter, with a big bright smile. "They've said it to me."

RNC Chairman Michael Steele has released this statement on Arlen Specter's party switch:

"Some in the Republican Party are happy about this. I am not.

Let's be honest-Senator Specter didn't leave the GOP based on principles of any kind. He left to further his personal political interests because he knew that he was going to lose a Republican primary due to his left-wing voting record.

Republicans look forward to beating Sen. Specter in 2010, assuming the Democrats don't do it first."

Here's an interesting tidbit about the big, giant, Potentially Earth-Shattering news that Sen. Arlen Specter will now be Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA). Intentionally or otherwise, Specter planned his announcement at a time when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would be indisposed.

McConnell, along with the rest of the congressional leadership, was, at the time of the announcement, attending a ceremony commemorating the unveiling of a bust of Sojourner Truth--the famed 19th century abolitionist and women's rights activist. A source in attendance confirms that he left the ceremony about a half an hour ago to attend a scheduled vote on the Senate floor.

It's unclear if that means McConnell was left in the dark about the plans. as a point of reference, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)--chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee)--wrote a letter to Pennsylvania Republicans two weeks ago endorsing the man who today decided he didn't want to be a Republican at all.

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