After Withholding Endorsement, Specter To Support Key Obama DOJ Nominee

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January 12, 2010 10:51 a.m.

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) says he’s revisited his initial concerns over Obama Justice Department nominee Dawn Johnsen, and has decided to support her confirmation.

“After voting ‘pass’ (which means no position) in the Judiciary Committee, I had a second extensive meeting with Ms. Johnsen and have been prepared to support her nomination when it reaches the Senate floor,” reads a statement Specter sent to TPMDC.

Johnsen’s nomination languished all of last year, in part because Specter, and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) had both suggested they’d join a GOP filibuster of her confirmation vote. However, Johnsen has always enjoyed the support of Republican Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN), meaning leadership needed only one of the two Democratic hold outs to change their positions in order to reach the 60 votes needed to overcome the filibuster.Because she could not be confirmed before the end of 2009, President Obama will have to resubmit her nomination (the White House says he plans to do this after the Senate returns from winter recess next week).

With Specter now in the ‘yes’ column, there are no obvious impediments to her confirmation. She will have to be re-approved by the Judiciary Committee, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will have to bring the question of her confirmation to the floor. The question now is when and whether that will happen. Throughout much of last year, progressives grew furious with the White House and Senate leadership for not pursuing her confirmation in earnest. With the vote count now no longer in doubt, that anger will surely rise if Johnsen is not confirmed quickly.

Once a moderate Republican, Specter became a Democrat last spring, and has moved significantly to the left since Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) began a primary challenge shortly thereafter. Just this week, Sestak challenged his opponent to revisit his reported opposition to Johnsen, and it seems very much as if Specter was listening.

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