In it, but not of it. TPM DC

There are two competing interpretations of Arlen Specter's move into the Democratic party. It's not clear why they're competing, because they're not by any means mutually exclusive. In fact, they're deeply connected. But that's how it's playing out: Either Specter became a Democrat because the Republicans moved too far to the right or Specter became a Democrat because he was facing a career ending primary in 2010. Strangely enough, even though Specter himself insists both factors contributed to his decision, very few people seem to have absorbed this.

One of those people is Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who says the Republican party's hitting the sweet spot. He attributes the non-viability of the Republican party in state's like Pennsylvania to the fact that voters have fled "forced unionization" in the northeast for the safety and comfort of the southern motherland.


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Obama And Biden Host Specter At White House Press Availability President Obama and Vice President Biden publicly welcomed Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) to the Democratic Party at the White House earlier this morning -- fittingly, from the Diplomatic Room. "I think that I can be of assistance to you, Mr. President," said Specter. Obama said: "I don't expect Arlen to be a rubber stamp. In fact, I'd like to think that Arlen's decision reflects recognition that this administration is open to many different ideas and many different points of view."

Obama's Day Ahead: Town Hall In Missouri, News Conference From Washington Following this morning's joint statement with Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), President Obama departed Andrews Air Force Base at about 8:30 a.m. ET, headed for St. Louis, Missouri. He will arrive in St. Louis at 10:30 a.m. ET, and will hold a town hall at 11:20 a.m. ET at Fox High School in Arnold, Missouri, discussing his first 100 days in office. He will depart from St. Louis at 2 p.m. ET, arriving back at the White House at 4 p.m. ET. At 8 p.m. ET tonight, President Obama will hold a news conference.

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I'm sure everybody's excited to read more about Arlen Specter. I know I can't wait to keep writing about him. But today's news will have a rather significant impact on a number of the seminal stories and meta-stories that define today's Washington, and it behooves us all to take stock.

Specter, as we've noted a number of times today, could well become the Democrats' 60th senator. But before that can happen, though, Democrats will need to get Al Franken seated, and today's move raises the stakes for both sides of that fight. If you thought Norm Coleman and the national Republican party had little incentive to throw in the towel when Franken represented the Democrats' 59th vote, they have considerably less incentive to call it quits now. If, as is widely presumed, the Minnesota Supreme Court decides in June or July to uphold Franken's victory, the pressure from Washington will be on Gov. Tim Pawlenty to do the unseemly thing and refuse to certify the result.

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It's been a day for changing titles. Former Kansas governor was confirmed earlier this evening to be President Obama's Secretary of Health and Human Services. The vote was 65-31. Among the 65 was former Republican Arlen Specter (D-PA). We'll post the Roll Call when it comes down the pipe.

Interestingly, Specter also voted in support of an major piece of anti-fraud legislation earlier today, and, in that roll call, the Senate website still lists him as a Republican. Amateurs.

Anyhow, NARAL/Pro-Choice America has been pushing hard for Sebelius' confirmation, and the group's president, Nancy Keenan, had this to say:

We applaud the Senate's vote to confirm the eminently-qualified Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to serve in this critical position. Anti-choice advocates tried every desperate trick in the book to derail her confirmation, but this vote shows that a majority of senators understand that Americans are tired of the antagonistic politics of the past. As our country faces challenges on a number of fronts, especially on the issue of affordable health care, we look forward to ensuring that women's health and sound science are a priority, rather than the failed political maneuvering that damaged this agency during the previous Bush administration.

Late update: Roll call here. He's still listed as a Republican. Somebody should call the clerk!

Earlier in the afternoon today, Michael Steele appeared on CNN and was asked whether he was surprised about the developments with Arlen Specter.

"No I'm not, to be honest with you I had a feeling," said Steele. "Sen. Specter had very few options at this point. He had stepped on the toes of many Republicans with his vote on the stimulus bill, which is a core principle in terms of our views on economics."

In the course of the interview, Steele elaborated on his displeasure with Specter for having betrayed Republicans who'd supported him in the past.

"For the senator to flip the bird back to Senator Cornyn and the Republican Senate Leadership, a team that stood by him, who went to the bat for him in 2004, to save his hide is not only disrespectful but down right rude," said Steele. "I'm sure his mama didn't raise him this way."

Thusfar, no decisions have been made with respect to Sen. Specter's committee assignments. At least, that's the official world. But here's the lay of the land.

As I noted earlier, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)--the senior member of the Judiciary Committee behind (at least until today) Arlen Specter--can not become its ranking member. His staff confirms it. The rules of the Senate Republican Conference forbid it. Hatch was chairman of that committee from 1995-2001 (with a brief interruption in 2001 thanks to Jim Jeffords) and then again from 2003-2005, and conference rules stipulate that "[o]nce a Senator has completed six years as Chairman of a committee, there will be no further opportunity for that Senator to serve as Ranking Member of that same committee if control of the Senate shifts and Republicans go into the Minority."

Behind Hatch, though, are Sens. Grassley (R-IA), Kyl (R-AZ), and Sessions (R-AL). Let's tackle them in reverse order.

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Pennsylvania Democratic Party chairman T.J. Rooney put out this statement welcoming Arlen Specter to the party -- and essentially saying that Specter will have the state party's official support in 2010:

"The Pennsylvania Democratic Party welcomes Sen. Arlen Specter with open arms as he has been a tremendous influence on Pennsylvania and has always voted his conscience for the good of his constituents.

"It was the Republican Party that abandoned Arlen Specter, not the other way around. He has been good for the commonwealth and has taken courageous stands, such as supporting President Barack Obama's stimulus plan that is already helping hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians.

"While the endorsement process is, obviously, a long time from now, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party has a long-standing practice of supporting Democratic incumbents."

Pennsylvania Republican Party chairman Rob Gleason put out this statement today on Arlen Specter's defection to the Democrats:

"I am deeply disappointed in Senator Arlen Specter's decision to leave the Republican Party, as he has benefited from the support of our Party for many years. It is apparent that he chose to act in his own self-interest and put his political ambitions first. The Republican Party has room for conservatives and moderates because we are the Party of ideas.

"I, like many of my fellow Pennsylvania Republicans, took Senator Specter at his word when he said that he would not switch parties, and I believe he owes every Republican who has supported him over the last three decades an apology. I would urge Senator Specter to do the right thing and proactively return any and all campaign contributions he has received in recent months to run as a Republican in the upcoming election. I am sure that most, if not all, of these donors would not have supported a Democrat candidate.

"Senator Arlen Specter can rest assured that we are committed to winning this seat back for the Republican Party in 2010. I am confident that we will win this seat back."

So much is in flux right now that it's hard to keep everything straight, but here's an important update. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) will support the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. Johnsen is a professor at Indiana University--one of Lugar's constituents--and, as such, it makes sense that Lugar would be a swing vote.

Assuming nobody in the Democratic caucus (save, perhaps, it's newest member) chooses to obstruct, that leaves Democrats one vote shy of the 60-votes needed to break a potential Republican filibuster. And that doesn't account for the fact that a number of Republicans (moderates, and others who are on the record opposing the filibuster of presidential nominees) have yet to break silence.

Earlier today once and current Democrat Arlen Specter said he opposes Johnsen's nomination, but his staff was unable to confirm just yet whether that means he'd support a filibuster or not.

Vice President Joe Biden released this statement on Arlen Specter's party switch:

"I welcome my old friend to the Democratic Party. Senator Arlen Specter is a man of remarkable courage and integrity. I know he will remain a powerful and independent voice for Pennsylvania and the country."