Specter says Obama ditched him after he provided 60th vote to pass health reform

Former Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) writes in a new book that President Obama ditched him in the 2010 election after he helped Obama win the biggest legislative victory of his term by passing healthcare reform.

Specter also claims that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) did not uphold his promise to grant him seniority accrued over 28 years of service in the Senate as a Republican.

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Specter, who rocked Washington’s political establishment and made headlines around the country when he left the Republican Party to join Democrats in April of 2009, has kept quiet about these slights until now.

He makes surprising revelations about Republican leaders, as well — he writes that former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) told him that he would have made the same decision to defect from the GOP if he had been in Specter’s position.

Specter says that one of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s (Ky.) first concerns after learning of the impending party switch was that he might be blamed for driving Specter out of the GOP.

Specter declined to discuss the behind-the-scenes machinations of his party switch when he granted an interview with several news outlets on his final day in the Senate, when he reminisced about his career in his hideaway on the first floor of the Capitol.

He promised instead to put the juicy details in his memoir, “Life Among the Cannibals,” which will go on sale later this month. The Hill obtained an advanced copy.

It was written with his former communications director, Charles Robbins.


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Specter laments that Obama and Vice President Biden did not do more to help him in the final days of his primary race against former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), who beat him 54 percent to 46 percent in the 2010 Pennsylvania Senate Democratic primary.

Specter writes that Obama turned down a request to campaign with him in the final days of the primary, because the president’s advisers feared he would look weak if he intervened and Specter lost.

“I realized that the president and his advisers were gun-shy about supporting my candidacy after being stung by Obama’s failed rescue attempts for New Jersey governor Jon Corzine and Massachusetts attorney general Martha Coakley. They were reluctant to become victims of a trifecta,” he writes.

The snub was made all the more painful by Obama flying over Philadelphia en route to New York City a few days before the election and then on primary day jetting over Pittsburgh to visit a factory in Youngstown, Ohio, 22 miles from the Pennsylvania border, to promote the 2009 economic stimulus law. The painful irony for Specter is that his vote for the stimulus legislation, which was instrumental to its passage, hastened his departure from the Republican Party.

Specter was also disappointed that Biden, who was only a few blocks away at Penn University, did not attend a pre-primary day rally at the Phillies’s Citizens Bank Park — a missed opportunity Specter attributes to a failed staff-to-staff request.

Just over a year before, Obama and Biden welcomed Specter to the Democratic Party with a press conference at the White House and promised him his full support.

Specter believes Reid acted with “duplicity” while managing the party switch. Specter said Reid promised him that he would be recognized on the seniority list as a Democrat elected in 1980, but failed to deliver on it.  

Had Specter been given the seniority he was promised, he would have become chairman of the powerful Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations subcommittee and next in line to chair the Judiciary Committee.

Instead, Reid stripped Specter of all his seniority by passing a short resolution by unanimous consent in a nearly-empty chamber, burying him at the bottom of the Democrats’ seniority list.

Specter found out about it after his press secretary emailed him a press account of the switch. Specter was floored that Reid had “violated a fundamental Senate practice to give personal notice to a senator directly affected by the substance of a unanimous consent agreement.”

Specter was left simmering after Reid’s spokesman at the time told the AP that Specter had known about the resolution and even joined in a deal to draft it, which Specter characterizes as a “falsification.”

“Overall, my sense was that Reid didn’t extend himself much to advance my seniority on either committee,” he wrote.

Specter writes that several senior Democrats refused to cede seniority to him, significantly damaging his reelection chances against Sestak.

He says Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), now the chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services subcommittee, declined a request to let Specter take over as chairman at least until the election.

Sens. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) refused to let him move past them in seniority on the Judiciary Committee.

But Specter praised Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the third-ranking member of the Democratic leadership, for treating him generously. Durbin gave Specter chairmanship of the Judiciary subcommittee on Crime and Drugs and both Durbin and Schumer let him climb ahead of them on Judiciary’s seniority ladder.

Specter also describes in detail McConnell’s response after learning that he would become the 59th member of the Democratic Caucus — Sen. Al Franken’s (D) delayed victory in Minnesota would give Reid later that year the 60th vote he needed to pass healthcare reform.

“When I told him I was going to change parties, he was visibly displeased but not ruffled. Mostly, he was taciturn,” Specter recounts. “McConnell and I had a serious discussion. He was very nice and very professional. ‘Don’t do it,’ he said. ‘It’d be a big mistake. Serve out your time as a Republican and retire gracefully.’”

McConnell worried that he might get blamed for driving Specter to join the Democrats. He raised the issue at a meeting of the Senate Republican conference where Specter announced his decision.

“McConnell asked me in front of the others if I was going to criticize him or the Republican caucus for my decision. He was worried that I might blame him,” Specter wrote. “Absolutely not, I wrote.”

Dole, who served as Senate Republican leader from 1985 to 1996, was initially angry with Specter but then told him he made the right decision.

Specter recounted a long conversation at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center 18 months after the switch.

“Dole told me I had done the right thing, that I had done a terrific job as a senator, been involved in a lot of projects, been very active, and hadn’t gotten credit for a lot of the stuff I had done,” he wrote.

“I said, ‘Bob, I think that it’s very meaningful when you say that I did the right thing, in the party change.’

“He said, ‘Well,’ and then paused and thought for a few seconds. Then he said, ‘I probably would have done the same thing.’ ”