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In recent weeks, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) has become one of the most visible figures in Pennsylvania politics, and his star is still rising. We noted a couple weeks ago that, in a number of ways, Sestak would be well positioned to run for Senate in 2010, but he's said all along that he's happy serving in the House and has no intention of attempting a switch.

Now, of course, the landscape is completely changed. And whether Sestak throws his hat in, or stays in the House, Pennsylvania Democrats will have to decide whether or not to embrace Democratic Senate candidate Arlen Specter. On that question, Sestak's saying 'not'--at least for now. Watch:

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Sen. Joe Lieberman (Democrat-turned-Independent Democrat, Connecticut) put out this statement welcoming Sen. Arlen Specter (Republican-turned-Democrat, Pennsylvania) to the Dem caucus:

"I enthusiastically welcome my good friend Arlen Specter into the Democratic caucus. It will be very good to have the company of yet another independent minded Democrat in the caucus!

"I have always admired Arlen as a man of deep principle who has been a bridge builder to get things done in the Senate. Arlen understands that we get things accomplished when we listen to the vital center of American politics. I know that Arlen will continue to make a major contribution to the Senate and the nation as an effective independent leader and problem solver."

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), ranking member on the Budget Committee, has an interesting position on the question of passing legislation through the budget reconciliation process. That is to say, he unequivocally opposes the procedure in all circumstances (unless those circumstances involve Republican agenda items like tax cuts). We've tracked his swings here pretty thoroughly, and noticed that he was at it again today on Fox News. Watch:

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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:

A court has rejected the Obama administration's claim of the state secret privilege.

Via the blog Legal Pad: A three-member panel of the 9th circuit Court of Appeals ruled this morning on a request from the government that it dismiss the Jeppesen case, which focuses on the CIA's extraordinary rendition program.

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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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