Virtually everyone agrees that Arlen Specter left the Republican Party in a completely selfish, hypocritical and unprincipled effort to save his own political hide in the face of opposition from a principled conservative who has a proven ability to win votes in Pennsylvania. The only question seems to be, why did this happen?
Some want to blame Toomey, the Club for Growth, Jim DeMint and others who have advocated a return to fundamental conservative principles by Republicans. Erick counters that well (or see below). But for those of us who really know how things work in the Senate, the answer is much more simple: Arlen Specter turned his guns on his own “friends” a few times too often…
Arlen Specter has long been a thorn in the side of Senate Republicans – and many of his antics are well known, be it voting against the confirmations of eventual colleague Jeff Sessions (for District Judge) and Robert Bork (Supreme Court), or his odd invocation of Scottish law in his vote of “not proved” during the Clinton impeachment trial. Still more people will point to his recent vote on the so-called stimulus bill and his massive spending proclivities as an Appropriator. All points are well taken.
But the damage done by Specter goes far deeper than this and has stayed largely off the radar screen of most close observers, much less most Americans. In his tenure as Chairman, and now ranking Republican member, of the Senate Judiciary Committee – Arlen Specter has employed marginal and often liberal staff, drained resources that could have been used by more productive conservative members of the Committee, refused to fight the liberal agenda of Patrick Leahy – often endorsing it, promoted legislation counter to Republican principles, and failed to defend President Bush’s nominees when the camera was not on him.
During the 110th Congress on Judiciary Committee, Senator Specter employed approximately 17 counsels compared to Chairman Leahy’s 12 counsels (yes, that’s right), leaving the remaining Republican Senators (such as Kyl, Sessions, Cornyn, Coburn) with 15 counsels compared to the Democrats’ 31 (recognizing they had a couple more members).
These resources matter – when Specter staff does nothing but acquiesce to Democrats’ demands and leave fellow Republicans with no ability to fight nominations and bad legislation, often leaving them in a hole…
During the 110th Congress, Specter supported legislation that went against Republican principles and was of particular interest to him:
– Habeas Corpus for GITMO prisoners: Not only did Specter undermine Republican efforts, he used his staff to draft a 36-page amicus brief under his name for the Supreme Court in the Boumediene case – arguing that the Congressionally passed DTA and MCA were unconstitutional;
Further, in the 110th Congress, Specter allowed very important, qualified judicial nominees to languish at the hands of Democrats who confirmed only 4 of President Bush’s Circuit Court nominees in 2008. Specter failed to advance the extremely well regarded Peter Keisler, nominee for the DC Circuit, as well as numerous important 4th Circuit Court nominees (e.g. Conrad and Matthews) – allowing that circuit to go from one of the most reliably conservative to one teetering on the edge waiting for Obama to re-shape it. In so doing, Specter was focused more on promoting his own friends and allies than in fighting for critical judges desperately needed to protect against activism – and failed to get even a hearing for Keisler, Conrad or Matthews;
– FISA Reform: Specter promoted his own priorities, contra the interests of his fellow Republicans and our national security, working to cut deal with Democrats without notice to his colleagues on issues such as cutting back on the telecom immunity provisions;
– NFL Spying (non) issue: Specter wasted valuable Senate resources on the spying “scandal” of the New England Patriots in blatant pandering to a media that itself recognized the whole thing was a waste of time;
– Media Shield (S.2035): Specter sponsored legislation that was strongly opposed – on national security grounds – by the Republican-appointed FBI Director, Director of National Intelligence, Attorney General, and Secretaries of Homeland Security, Energy and Treasury;
– There were countless other measures… just check the record.
In previous Congresses, if it’s possible, his track record was FAR WORSE:
In the 109th Congress, Specter wasted literally thousands of man hours in committee and two weeks of Senate floor time pursuing his pet project to create a massive Asbestos Trust Fund that would have put taxpayers on the hook for up to $300 Billion and would have destroyed much of the great progress made by states in the fight against asbestos litigation abuse. The legislation took massive resources by REPUBLICANS to prevent from becoming law… yes, with a 55 seat majority, Republicans were forced to fight their own bill – because of one man – Arlen Specter;
Immigration: Senator Specter worked with Ted Kennedy, as the sole Republican original co-sponsor, to promote and push forward the disastrous immigration bill that put Republicans in a bad spot in 2007 – and then was one of 12 Republicans to vote to invoke cloture on a revised bill. That issue could have been handled properly and turned into a good issue for Republicans. Instead, it became divisive and damaging – and beyond the Bush administration’s errors, Arlen Specter was as much responsible for the mess as anyone.
Kelo: Remember the property rights issue – kicked off by the Supreme Court’s decision to allow a person’s house to be taken by the government for economic development purposes – that enraged so many Americans? Republicans had an opportunity to turn that issue into a cause and run on it in 2006. They didn’t – in significant part because Arlen Specter bottled it up at the request of Pennsylvania mayors and folks like Michael Bloomberg. Specter effectively killed one of the best political issues Republicans had in a very bad year…
Race-Based Government: Senator Specter supported the unconstitutional “Native Hawaiians” bill that would have created a race-based government based on “a drop of Native Hawaiian blood.” His support helped advance the legislation that then consumed two important weeks of floor time of a Republican-controlled Senate;
Voting Rights Act: Senator Specter allowed Democrats to monopolize witnesses and, essentially, call the shots with respect to the hearings held in consideration of the re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act. He allowed the legislation to be rushed through, despite having an additional year before expiration of certain limited sections. The well-intended act is now used for political gerrymandering and its re-authorization was ill-advised at best, unconstitutional at worst – and continues to perpetuate political division by race.
This list hardly scratches the surface. A book could be written on the damage this one man did to Republicans in their brief time in a position to govern – and maybe it will be. But know this – Arlen Specter left the Party because he is selfish and because he never stood for principle. He stood for the political animal that he is, and in the process, damaged the United States of America.