Specter Once Tried To Stop Midterm Party Switches in Senate: Something He Did Today To Save His Own Hide

Rattled by the defection of Jim Jeffords in 2001, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter proposed changing the Senate rules to diminish the impact of Senators switching party mid-session — as he did today.

Specter took to the floor to express his unhappiness with Jeffords’ move, and to suggest a rule — which was never put into place — “which would preclude a recurrence of this situation” in which a single Senator’s move shifted control of the body. (Specter’s move today didn’t have that effect.)

Here’s the relevant portion of Specter’s May 14, 2001 speech, which was unearthed by POLITICO’s Eamon Javers:

How should these issues be handled by the Senate for the future? I intend to propose a rule change which would preclude a future recurrence of a Senator’s change in parties, in mid-session, organizing with the opposition, to cause the upheaval which is now resulting.

I take second place to no one on independence voting. But, it is my view that the organizational vote belongs to the party which supported the election of a particular Senator. I believe that is the expectation. And certainly it has been a very abrupt party change, although they have occurred in the past with only minor ripples, none have caused the major dislocation which this one has.

When I first ran in 1980, Congressman Bud Shuster sponsored a fundraiser for me in Altoona where Congressman Jack Kemp was the principal speaker. When some questions were raised as to my political philosophy, Congressman Shuster said my most important vote would be the organizational vote. From that day to this, I have believed that the organizational vote belonged to the party which supported my election.

When the Democrats urged me to switch parties some time ago, I gave them a flat “no.” I have been asked in the last several days if I intended to switch parties. I have said absolutely not.

Senator Phil Gramm faced this issue when he decided to switch parties. He resigned his seat, which he had won as a Democrat, and ran for reelection as a Republican. As he told me, his last vote in January 1983 was for the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and he voted for Tip O’Neill with the view that he was elected as a Democrat and should vote that way on organizational control. Even though, he intended to become a Republican and would have preferred another person to be Speaker. To repeat, I intend to propose a Senate rule which would preclude a change in control of the Senate when a Senator decides to vote with the opposing party for organizational purposes.

One other aspect does deserve comment, and that is the issue of personal benefit to a changing Senator. In our society, political arrangements avoid the consequences of similar conduct in other contexts.

For example, if company A induces a competitor’s employee to break his contract with company B and join company A, company B can collect damages for company A’s wrongful conduct. If A gives a benefit to an employee of B to induce the employee to breach a duty, that conduct can have serious consequences in other contexts which are not applied to political arrangements.

On the Lehrer news show on Thursday night, the day before yesterday, Senator Harry Reid and I sparred over this point. I expressed my concern about reliable reports that Democrats had told Senator Jeffords that Senator Reid would step aside so Senator Jeffords could become chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. Senator Reid replied that there was no quid pro quo, an expression I had not used.

Accepting Senator Jeffords’ decision was based on principle for the reasons he gave at his news conference on Thursday morning, a question still remains as to whether any such inducement was offered and whether it played any part in Senator Jeffords’ decision. Questions on such offers and counteroffers should be considered by Senators and by the Senate in an ethical context, but at this moment I do not see any way to effect such conduct by rulemaking or legislation.

This week’s events raise very profound questions for the governance of our country as well as the operation of the Senate. I intend to press a rule change which would preclude a recurrence of this situation and will be discussing with my colleagues the whole idea of inducements as an incentive for a party switch.

UPDATE: The Washington Post reported at the time that the proposal didn’t seem to impress either party much:

In one of the more surreal moments of the day, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) proposed a Senate rules change, which, if it had it been in effect when Jeffords defected, would have kept the chamber from falling into Democratic clutches.

Democrats, who soon will have the power to block all such creative political responses from the opposition party, responded with disbelief and scorn.

Specter gave a detailed description of the efforts Republicans made to keep Jeffords in their fold, including a seat at party leadership meetings, more money for education and an exception from the party’s term-limits rule that would have enabled Jeffords to remain as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee beyond 2002.

But then he questioned the fact that Democrats were prepared to make Jeffords chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee and are now planning to do so. “A question still remains as to whether any such inducement was offered and whether it played any part in Senator Jeffords’s decision,” he said, suggesting the question had an “ethical context.”

Democratic Whip Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who was instrumental in his party’s courtship of Jeffords, was clearly peeved at Specter for singling him out while he was off the Senate floor, and Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) rose to Jeffords’s defense. “To suggest that there was any quid pro quo or any other reason, I think demeans the integrity of one of our colleagues whom we both respect very, very much,” Durbin said.

Jeffords was not present during Specter’s speech but said later that he did not discuss the chairmanship issue with the Democrats until after he made his decision to leave the GOP.

Specter is now a member of the Senate Republican leadership, holding the moderates’ seat that Jeffords was offered before he quit the party, but GOP leadership aides said they had not heard of his proposed rules change before Specter aired it.

Democrats dismissed Specter’s proposal out of hand. “It’s a silly proposal and it has no chance,” Reid said. “It’s his [Specter’s] way of of showing everyone he was a lawyer.”

“I was saddened by it,” Jeffords said. “I don’t think decisions of conscience should be precluded by a rule.”

From Politics

http://michellemalkin.com/2009/
04/28/arlen-specter-makes-it-official/

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