In it, but not of it. TPM DC

At today's White House briefing earlier this afternoon, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs indicated that President Obama will continue to support Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) -- even if he's not supporting the Democratic agenda:

Jake Tapper (ABC): A follow-up on a couple of issues, one regarding the Pennsylvania primary. President Obama has said he will commit to Senator Arlen Specter. Today, Congressman Sestak of Pennsylvania said he is inclined to challenge Specter in the primary. Given the fact that Specter's very first vote as a Democrat was against the President's budget, is there anything that Specter could do that would -- in terms of voting against the President -- that would change the President campaigning for him against a Democrat who is more in line with the President's priorities?

Gibbs: I think the President was pretty clear on this. Senator Specter has his full support, and he'll do what's necessary to see him reelected. I think Senator Specter said it the day he made his announcement that he's going to make decisions on individual bills. But I think that him switching to the Democratic Party was a belief that that's the party that could best serve his constituents. We don't get a hundred -- we don't generally get a hundred percent of any party voting for us, but we'll continue to try.

In Gibbs' defense, this was before reports came out that Specter said he supported Norm Coleman in the disputed Minnesota race.

Harry Reid spokesman Jim Manley gives us a comment about Sen. Arlen Specter's (D-PA) apparent desire for Norm Coleman to win the disputed Minnesota Senate race.

"Well, on that one we are just going to have to disagree," Manley writes, "because as far as Senator Reid and the people of Minnesota are concerned, Al Franken is going to be the next Senator from Minnesota."

Just a quick update on the nomination of Harold Koh to be the State Department's legal adviser. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was supposed to hold a vote today on whether to favorably report him to the full Senate, but was prevented from doing so by Sen. Jim DeMint (D-SC) who's placed a hold both on his nomination and on the nomination of Susan Burk to be the President's Special Representative for Non-Proliferation.

The holds will last until at least the committee's business meeting next week. DeMint didn't cite any particular reason for placing them, but I've placed a call to his office asking for an explanation.

The SEIU isn't the only major union worried about Specter's new shoot-from-the-hip political strategy. AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale says, "Endorsement decisions for Pennsylvania are made by the workers in Pennsylvania and the State AFL-CIO Federation, not in DC."

As [AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard] Trumka explained that process is based on the issues that matter to workers, not party affiliation, or who the establishment is backing. This same process is used for both primaries and general elections.

Specter's now saying he hopes the courts ignore the will of Minnesota voters (and of his new party) and send Norm Coleman back to the Senate. And in a perverse way, that makes a certain amount of sense--if the courts uphold Franken's victory, then Specter will give the Democrats their 60th vote--a contingency he once warned against rather loudly. That's a curious way to be consistent, but, more importantly, an implication that he wants to see his new party's agenda undermined. If Coleman returns to the Senate, the benefits to the Democrats of Specters' switch (glancing as they've been) will become all but meaningless.

On CNN moments ago, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) reiterated a couple themes he touched on when I interviewed him last night--specifically that the Democratic establishment has embraced Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) for expediency's sake, and that Specter may not be a reliable choice for Pennsylvania Democrats, particularly given that his next term, should he win re-election, won't end until 2016.

Specter's working toward a compromise with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chief sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, but Sestak's demanded much more of him if he hopes to fend off a primary challenge.

Memo to Sen. Arlen Specter (RD-PA): You're supposed to be a Democrat now.

In an interview with the New York Times, Specter stated in no uncertain terms that he wants Norm Coleman to win the disputed Minnesota Senate race: "There's still time for the Minnesota courts to do justice and declare Norm Coleman the winner."

So what exactly are the Dems getting out of this whole deal?

Late Update: NRSC press secretary Amber Wilkerson gives us this comment: "First he voted against President Obama's budget, then he said he wouldn't be a loyal Democrat, now he wants Norm Coleman to win. We've never agreed so much with Arlen Specter. You just have to wonder whether Joe Sestak agrees with the positions of his fellow Pennsylvania Democrat?"

Late Late Update: It's possible that Specter might have been telling a joke -- a really bad joke that someone in his position shouldn't even be attempting. I've put in a request for comment/clarification to his office, and have yet to hear back.

As we noted earlier, Sen. Arlen Specter met with senior SEIU officials this afternoon, just one day after his most likely competitor for the Democratic Senate nomination in Pennsylvania--Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA)--met with the group's president Andy Stern.

One of those officials was Eileen Connelly, Executive Director of SEIU's Pennsylvania State Council, who, reached by phone, said the meeting "was all about EFCA". "We didn't really talk about health care," she said.

Specter's support for both issues, but particularly the Employee Free Choice Act, has been flagging. Before he became a Democrat, he disavowed his prior support for EFCA, and then reiterated that position after switching parties last week.

"I think that part of our concern is--the Employee Free Choice Act is a critical issue for us," Connelly said. "It's why we've been talking to Specter, whether he's a Republican or a Democrat."

I asked her whether the Pennsylvania SEIU would consider getting involved in a Democratic primary if one of the candidates took stronger position on that issue. She said it was a bit too early to make big calls like that but that "there's nothing automatic for anybody."

"I don't want to say that it's all or nothing," Connelly added, "but it's very critical."

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The new poll of Pennsylvania from the GOP outfit Public Opinion Strategies, which shows former Gov. Tom Ridge swamping Pat Toomey in a Republican primary for Senate, also says that party-switcher Arlen Specter would start out with a huge lead in the Democratic primary against a potential challenge from Rep. Joe Sestak.

The numbers: Specter 57%, Sestak 20%.

Intuitively, this makes sense. Specter has much more name recognition than Sestak, having served as a Senator for nearly 30 years, compared to Sestak's only having been elected in 2006. And Specter's high-profile defection from the Republican Party has probably done him a lot of good with the state's Dem voters.

A new poll of Pennsylvania from Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies shows that former Gov. Tom Ridge (R-PA), who is reportedly considering a bid for the Senate seat now held by Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter, would currently lead conservative candidate Pat Toomey in a 60%-23% landslide for the Republican primary.

Toomey's big lead over Specter in the primary polls spurred the incumbent to switch parties, which in turn created the question of whether the Republicans were guaranteed Toomey as the nominee, or whether another Republican could take him. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who is also vice chair of the NRSC, has openly said Toomey cannot win, so the establishment could understandably be eager for someone else. And if Ridge gets in, they just might have it.

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Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY), who has accused his party leadership of sabotaging his fundraising and trying to force him into retirement, is now raising a possible scenario under which he might just retire -- if he can't get enough money.

"We're working like the devil to make those goals," Bunning told reporters. And if he doesn't meet his goals: "we're going to take another look at the race. I'm not going to walk into 2010 with less than $1 million when I know it's going to cost $7 million minimally, probably $10 (million), somewhere in that area, to run against the winner of the Democratic primary."

He also had an interesting reply to the accusation that he's too old: "Do you know Arlen Specter will be 80, has had four bouts with cancer and he still wants to run for the U.S. Senate? And I'm being criticized at 77 and healthy for wanting to run for the U.S. Senate by certain leadership people in my party. Give me a break."