Josh makes a fair point. Arlen Specter has lied through his teeth consistently, why should now be any different. But Specter was mighty clear during his press conference today not to expect that he'll be a reliable vote for Democrats, particularly on card check.
"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."
And what does he get for his defiance? A ridiculously warm welcome from Andy Stern, President of the SEIU, which has been out front in advocating for the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.
"It's clear to us that the right-wing conservatives in control of the leadership of the Republican party in Pennsylvania left Senator Specter long ago and we are pleased that he has decided to do the same. Just as he did with his leadership on the economic stimulus bill, Senator Specter has once again demonstrated the political courage it takes to put the interests of the working families of Pennsylvania ahead of partisanship. We have always had tremendous common ground with Senator Specter on issues important to working families including the need for reform to our nation's labor laws. We look forward to continuing our long history of working with Senator Specter to create positive change for the working families of Pennsylvania."
I actually think I threw up a little. "Political courage?" Really? This was a coward's move. "Interests of working families?" You know he said he's NOT voting for EFCA, right?
So why is Andy Stern kissing Specter's ass as though he's on his side as opposed to starting immediately to pressure him from the left to move him to his side? Does he know something we don't?
"We are pleased that he's now free to speak his mind without needing to be aligned with the Republican leadership," he said in an interview. "We think we'll get a truer picture of what Arlen Specter believes in his heart."
Stern suggested that Specter's opposition to EFCA might not extend to voting for cloture, though Specter suggested otherwise in his statement.
"On many issues, including cloture, the Democrats have worked as a party to at least allow debate," Stern said. "Having a 60th member of the party should allow for a lot more debate, and not have one or two individuals hold up progress."
We hear a similar refrain from Bill Samuel, a top lobbyist for the AFL-CIO:
"In his mind, he wants fundamental labor law reform," said Bill Samuel, the AFL-CIO's top lobbyist. He sees Specter's switch as a positive sign for card-check, which had seemed doomed for this Congress after Specter and Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) both said they would not support the bill.
"He is liberated, in some sense, to follow his heart. In his heart, he really wants to see the law improved for workers," Samuel told The Hill.
Sounds like labor is fairly confident that Specter can be moved to a Yes on cloture position merely by virtue of being in the Democratic caucus. Or maybe they see an acceptable compromise coming down the pike, as Harry Reid told The Hill:
"There may be another iteration of card-check coming along," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday, after pointedly stating that Specter has said he could not vote for the card-check bill in its current form.
What with Specter's penchant for telling lies of convenience with impunity and the fact that Specter supported EFCA in 2007, gaining a Yes from him on cloture for either the same bill or a watered down version, would seem on paper not to be too terribly difficult. So, fair enough, let's give Andy Stern the benefit of the doubt for now that he knows something I don't and I'll follow Josh's advice to "disbelieve all Specter's assertions equally" but I sure hope that if and when Specter holds firm on his promise to oppose EFCA -- in whatever version it comes up -- that SEIU will be first in line to support a primary challenge to Specter.
The Democratic power structure has apparently promised their full-throated support for Arlen Specter in next year's Democratic Senate primary -- "in money and in message" -- and no doubt intends to do everything it can to clear the field for our Johnny come lately. Ed Rendell made that perfectly clear in an interview last month.
Asked if Specter could win a Dem primary, Rendell said: "He'd be unopposed. The Democrats in the Senate would welcome him. We in Pennsylvania would welcome him. He'd be basically unopposed for the Democratic nomination."
God forbid actual Democrats get to choose for themselves who will be their nominee. What's that called again? Oh yeah, democracy. Specter said he switched parties because he saw he had no chance of winning a Republican primary. Clearly, he has no intention of having to compete in a Democratic one either. How convenient.
So now we get to watch the depressing spectacle of the big guns trying to push Joe Sestak and Allyson Schwartz away from a run against Specter. Will they be successful? Who knows, but it doesn't really matter. Either way, Specter will not have the field to himself.
It turns out that Arlen Specter already has a serious primary challenger: Joe Torsella (I can't seem to find a campaign website.) Torsella is CEO of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, head of the Pennsylvania Education Board, and was also a Rhodes Scholar. He held a variety of civic and political positions in Philadelphia during the 1990's, and narrowly lost a 2004 primary for the U.S. House to Allyson Schwartz. [...]
This is a serious campaign. Torsella raised $596,513 during the first 51 days of his campaign, and has $586,798 on hand. While that is still a long way from the $6,735,915 that Specter has on hand, it is not to be taken lightly. Torsella has also hired a high-profile, experienced set of staff and consultants...
Today, Torsella reiterated his intention to run for the Democratic primary. I'll be interested to hear more about Torsella's views but no doubt if he remains the only Democrat to challenge Specter, he is going to find a lot of support online and on the ground in Pennsylvania. His life sure just got a whole lot more interesting.
Update [2009-4-28 17:20:34 by Todd Beeton]:From Ben Smith, until today Torsella was "Rendell's favored candidate."
One man in an interesting spot today is Neil Oxman, Ed Rendell's political advisor and media consultant who is working for the man who was, until today, Rendell's favored candidate for Senate, Joe Torsella.
Torsella, now, is defying his old boss and staying in, and Oxman said in a brief interview that he thinks his client can beat Specter in the Democratic primary, if he decides to stay in the race, despite the power governor's decision to back Specter.
"Ed Rendell will be for Specter and will be at the press conference with the president tomorrow, but I don't think it's relevant," Oxman said. "In these kinds of races poeple make up their minds not because some government leader tells them to."
The Democrats have been given absolute power over our lives with the treason of Arlen Specter. The voters of Pennsylvania should force a recall on this pathetic excuse for a human being. Too gutless to face the very voters he betrayed, Specter crawls off to the Democrat Party in hopes of hanging on to his job. I just donated to Pat Toomey, you should as well.
Something tells me that the Democrats are celebrating this, not clenching their fists over Specter's ideological impurity. Why? Because they have another senator in their ranks. We just lost one.
Hope you're happy, hardliners.
Jeff Emanuel at Redstate seems to be reserving judgment but reminds us of this ditty from Specter back in March:
Just over a month ago, Specter told The Hill "I am staying a Republican because I think I have an important role -- a more important role -- to play there. I think the United States desparately needs a two party system. It is the basis of politics in America. I think each of the 41 Republican Senators, in a sense, and I don't want to overstate this, is a national asset, because if one was gone you would only have 40. The Democrats would have 60 and they would control all of the mechanisms of government."
With Specter saying he won't change his position on Card Check, any Democratic official could run in the Senate primary and could at least count on the support of the unions. The reader adds, "If opposed, Arlen will loses the primary after his opponent runs a few hundred points of ads showing him arm in arm with Bush and Cheney. Hell, if I were Toomey, I'd run those ads."
I imagine that a lot of people here and elsewhere will wish him a good riddance. Given the frustration conservatives have felt with his decisions on many occasions, it's only natural. However, all the whining about Specter, the primary challenges and the general abuse hurled towards this man has left us without enough votes to filibuster and yet another seat to claw back come the next election.
Congrats, guys. We're a little more ideologically pure and a little smaller. Funny how that works.
Some in the Republican Party are happy about this. I am not.
Lets be honest-Senator Specter didnt leave the GOP based on principles of any kind. He left to further his personal political interests because he knew that he was going to lose a Republican primary due to his left-wing voting record.
Republicans look forward to beating Sen. Specter in 2010, assuming the Democrats dont do it first.
IL-Sen: Rep. Jan Schakowsky has released an internal poll -- conducted by Lake Research Partners -- that has her barely ahead of a tight pack for next year's Senate primary with Roland Burris in third.
Jan Schakowsky 24 Alexi Giannoulias 22 Roland Burris 18 Undecided 36
What's notable here is that Schakowsky, who is a member of Congress, is essentially tied with Giannoulias who has already won election statewide as Illinois' state treasurer. That bodes well for Schakowsky in such an early poll, although it's still unclear whether she'll even jump in officially. Josh Kraushaar thinks all signs are pointing to No, but then why did she release this poll? Schakowsky reportedly will make her intentions known for this February '10 primary by June 8.
FL-Sen: Per The Fix, Charlie Crist is a "near lock" to run for the open Florida Senate seat. He'll make his decision by May 5th. From Cilizza:
Crist would immediately emerge as the favorite to win the Republican primary although informed observers seem to believe that former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, who is close to former Gov. Jeb Bush, would remain in the primary.
Crist's candidacy also could have an impact on the Democratic field, with Rep. Ron Klein and Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio potentially passing on the Senate race and taking a look at other statewide openings caused by the domino effect set of by Crist's departure. Rep. Kendrick Meek and state Sen. Dan Gelber are already in the race on the Democratic side.
From what I've seen, Dan Gelber seems to be the solid progressive in this race. Check him out online HERE.
I am pretty sure Michael Bennet will get elected to a full term. His numbers aren't that great right now but he's done a good job of fundraising and when he gets to go on tv next year he should be able to convince the voters in the state, most of whom do not know a ton about him, that he deserves to stay. That's particularly helped by the very weak GOP candidate field. If a Bill Owens got into the race it would be a different story but it doesn't look like he's going to.
-That said, I'm not sure why folks were so shocked that Bennet's numbers this week weren't setting the world on fire. Just because Colorado went well for the Democrats the last few election cycles doesn't mean it's all the sudden a deep blue state. Last summer we showed Ken Salazar's approval rating around 38 or 39 percent. Why would Bennet's be better when he's never run for office before?
AR-Sen: Republican Tim Griffin keeps hinting at challenging Sen. Blanche Lincoln but just can't seem to pull the trigger. In a speech Friday, Griffin addressed one of the reasons he might not jump in against Lincoln:
Griffin says there aren't enough Republicans in Arkansas to elect a senator, so the GOP has to find a candidate who can capture large blocks of votes from conservative Democrats.
"Whoever we choose as our nominee to run against her must appeal to conservatives, regardless of party," Griffin told party loyalists at the Saline County Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day dinner.
"There aren't enough Republicans in the state to get us elected. It's just a fact, it's a numbers game," Griffin said. Griffin is a former Republican Party operative and briefly served as an interim U.S. Attorney.
One reason Griffin didn't address:
Griffin, a former aide to ex-presidential adviser Karl Rove, was appointed as interim U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas after Bud Cummins resigned his post. Cummins later said he was forced out by the Justice Department, and his firing was one of several that prompted a congressional inquiry of the dismissals.
Griffin, who said he wouldn't seek Senate confirmation, resigned after six months. [...]
Griffin has said he's prepared to address the firings controversy if it comes up as he mulls a run against Lincoln.
Griffin is expected to make his decision known by "early summer."
NY-Sen: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has been getting acquainted with downstate voters as she ramps up her first statewide run. So far, she is getting some good reviews. One blogger wonders: is she being under-estimated?
At the event, she touted the stimulus package, detailing Long Island's infrastructure projects. Gillibrand also urged the Island's business leaders to hire returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, who are re-entering the workforce during a recession.
From there she traveled with Nassau exec Tom Suozzi, Long Island Farm Bureau head Joe Gergela and Pat Hooker, commissioner of New York State Agriculture and Markets to Martin Viette Nurseries in East Norwich to launch the "Grown on LI" campaign. [...]
"She's becoming more visible and we're starting to see that she's about more than the Second Amendment, which has to give her rivals pause," said one prominent Democrat who doesn't plan to immediately support anyone in a primary. "As people meet her, they like her."
I'm happy to report that over the weekend at the California Democratic Party convention, a grassroots push to get the CDP to officially endorse Congress's investigations into the impeachment of Judge Jay Bybee, author of the infamous August 1, 2002 torture memo, was successful. Bybee currently enjoys a lifetime appointment to the 9th circuit court of appeals in San Francisco. The only way to remove him is for Congress to impeach him.
David Dayen, whose own petition in support of the CDP resolution had garnered 5,000 or so signatures by Sunday when the vote was taken, writes about the significance of the CDP's move:
Bybee's impeachment can start us down the path to restoring the rule of law. And now the largest state Democratic Party in the country has spoken. They have said that the myth about torture being a useful tool to extract actionable intelligence from terror suspects is not only irrelevant when it comes to lawbreaking but also entirely false, according to the CIA's own inspector general. They have said that Judge Bybee's appalling judgment and slavish acceptance of John Yoo's flawed legal reasoning represents a greater evil - the evil of thoughtlessness - and a greater responsibility for the actions committed thanks to his off-handed signature. They have said that Bybee's understanding of his own wrongdoing outweighed by his desire to be a federal judge shocks the conscience, and that far from being rewarded for his obedience to his conservative minders, he should bear responsibility for it, to the fullest extent possible.
But the CDP's passage of the resolution can not be the end. As Dave says, it's just the beginning. From a piece over at HuffPo:
David Dayen, a blogger and a delegate to past conventions, helped push the resolution through committee and onto the floor. The statement is meant to let California Democratic lawmakers know that "their state party just supported immediate congressional inquiry and need you as members of the state party to follow that."
Dayen said backers of the resolution will focus specifically on the six California Democrats on the Judiciary Committee: Howard Berman, Linda Sanchez, Brad Sherman, Zoe Lofgren, Maxine Waters and Adam Schiff.
Also, it's imperative that we contact every member of the House Judiciary Committee to let them know there is real grassroots support for this inquiry. FireDogLake Action has launched a tool to do just that. Dave has links to each on his site. Here's the default letter that you can send to each member of the committee:
On April 26, the California Democratic Party approved a resolution of support for an immediate Congressional inquiry into Judge Jay Bybee for his role in providing the legal justifications for torture. I ask that you follow this call for justice and accountability by commencing with this inquiry, and resolving to pursue all appropriate remedies and punishments, including Bybee's impeachment from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. We cannot have someone sitting in judgment on the federal bench who displayed such horrific judgment in defying domestic and international law by providing a road map for torture.
Often resolutions that state parties pass at their conventions are rather toothless. Let's make sure this one has lasting ramifications.
I think the thing that made me proudest about Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's endorsement of me on Wednesday was when he spoke of my record as a "coalition builder" and a "community organizer." Community organizing is precisely how I started out back in college when I got active in campus and community activities and joined the movement to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. It is precisely that spirit of organizing people to work together to a common goal, to build coalitions of people who may have conflicting interests, that I want to take to Washington, DC.
My activism continued beyond college when in 1985, a powerful bloc in Monterey Park were pushing for English-only signs in the city and English-only books in the library. They even got a resolution passed in the city council saying that only English should be spoken in the city. That was the last straw. So, I joined a multi-ethnic coalition -- made up of Asian-Americans, Latinos and whites -- to defeat the resolution and we were successful. It was out of that movement that I ran for city council.
A couple years later I first met Hilda Solis as we were both fighting to redraw the political boundaries so that the San Gabriel Valley was not divided. I was in an Asian-American coalition, she was in a Latino coalition and we sat down and talked and realized we had much in common that we should fight for together. So we went as a unit up to Sacramento to testify and as a result, we were the only community group that got what we wanted. It just shows the power of what coalitions can do.
That spirit of coalition building continued during my time in the state assembly when there were several bills where I really had to build consensus in order to get passed. One such bill that I carried was AB805, the Heat Illness Prevention Act, which imposes minimum workplace standards on employers to prevent heat-induced illness for workers who work outside in the summer. To make my point about the importance of such legislation, the coalition supporting the bill, chich included the United Farmworkers and the AFL-CIO, and I held a meeting with the governors office in the central valley in 100+ degree weather for over 2 hours. We made our point and that bill was passed and signed into law later that year.
Even now, as I run to replace my friend, my mentor and the greatest community organizer I know, Hilda Solis, in Congress, I am using my community organizing skills to build support for my candidacy. We knew from the outset that winning the California Democratic Party endorsement was a crucial step toward winning this seat and we also knew a sitting state senator would prove difficult to beat in an endorsement race, so what did we do? Organize organize organize. We got our folks out in force the day of the endorsement meeting, providing a lunch for delegates prior to the meeting where over 400 people showed up. The lunch turned into a grassroots rally and we had stand-by proxy voters waiting up to 3 hours just to see if I would need them to vote for me or not. It was a truly "people powered" campaign. In the end, Senator Cedillo saw he'd been out maneuvered and so pulled his voters at the last minute, preferring to get zero votes.
On Friday, when I wrote about President Obama using reconciliation, I only talked about it in terms of healthcare reform but that actually isn't the only issue where the budget will provide for its use. The other is student loan reform, something that should have been low hanging fruit for the new administration. As Steve Benen explains:
This should be a no-brainer. The student-loan industry is getting government subsidies to provide a service the government can perform for less. Obama can remove the middle-man, streamline the process, save taxpayers a lot money, and help more young people get college degrees.
Why is Obama likely to need reconciliation to pass his student loan reform plan? Well, because the banks oppose it, of course, and if banks oppose something, so do Senators of both parties, particularly one obstinate Democrat. Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who usually claims to be a fiscal hawk, has been enabling this wasteful student loan bank giveaway program because so many of those banks that benefit from the system reside in Nebraska. Nothing like a local special interest to make you throw principle out the window.
"They are gearing up for battle. So am I," Obama said yesterday at a White House event to tout his education plan. "They will fight for their special interests. I will fight for . . . American students and their families."
The procedural shortcut, known as reconciliation, would make it far easier to pass Obama's student loan plan -- which has drawn opposition from lawmakers in both parties -- as well as his proposal to expand health coverage for the uninsured. Reconciliation bills are tax or spending measures that cannot be blocked by filibuster, meaning the Senate needs only 51 votes to pass them instead of the usual 60. Democrats hold 58 Senate seats.
In both cases -- that of health care reform and student loan reform -- the administration is giving congress until October 15th to come up with legislation that can overcome a Senate filibuster.
In a meeting with House Republicans at the White House Thursday, President Obama reminded the minority that the last time he reached out to them, they reacted with zero votes -- twice -- for his stimulus package. And then he reminded them again. And again. And again.
A GOP source familiar with the meeting said that the president was extremely sensitive -- even "thin-skinned" -- to the fact that the stimulus bill received no GOP votes in the House. He continually brought it up throughout the meeting.
Obama also offered payback for that goose egg. A major overhaul of the health care system, he told the Republican leadership, would be done using a legislative process known as reconciliation, meaning that the GOP won't be able to filibuster it.
Sounds like the White House learned the right lesson from the stimulus debate and vote:
Democratic aides said that Obama made clear to the GOP leadership that he would continue to work in a bipartisan way, but that they didn't have veto power over health care policy. GOP aides, however, said that Obama was pretty clear that reconciliation would be used. "From what was told me, it sounded more like he would almost definitely use reconciliation for healthcare. I don't think he hedged much," said one.
As Democrats prepare a budget for next week, the expectation was that reconciliation language would be included.
But one participant said the chances were "fairly good" that Obama will get the procedural language, and Republicans are largely resigned to the president getting his way after the White House meeting.
At the White House, the president made clear that he would like this option, according to persons familiar with the discussions.
This is all excellent news, of course, but there is a big question that's yet unanswered: what does Kent Conrad want for not blocking reconciliation. Some are speculating, disturbingly, that he's been promised the chance of, as Ezra Klein puts it, "tinkering with Social Security."