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Specter Endures Backlash

Less than 24 hours after being welcomed into the Democratic fold as a hero, Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) found himself chastised by his new leadership, demoted to freshman status and forced to use the chamber’s back door to avoid reporters’ questions about his loyalties.

“He’s kind of a man without a country right now,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said of her newest colleague, who on Tuesday watched as Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was forced to renege on the deal they cut when Specter switched parties.

Reid had publicly said Specter would keep his seniority on five committees, although he would not be given the chairmanship of any committees or subcommittees.

But Specter’s 28 years in the Senate would have put him ahead of much of the Democratic Conference, and backlash from senior Democrats, including Sens. Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), forced Reid on Tuesday to officially strip the Pennsylvanian of his seniority.

Reid’s office said the issue will be revisited in 2011 when the 112th Congress begins, assuming Specter is re-elected next year.

McCaskill and other Democrats acknowledged the intraparty turf war had forced Reid’s hand.

“It’s hard for people who’ve been here for a while,” McCaskill said, explaining that “seniority is obviously a very sticky wicket. It’s hard for folks that have been here for a while that he would walk over from the other side and suddenly be at the top” of the seniority list.

In a statement put out by his office Tuesday, Specter acknowledged his colleagues’ concerns and said he was willing to put off a final decision on his seniority until the beginning of the next Congress.

“Some members of the caucus have raised concerns about my seniority, so the caucus will vote on my seniority at the same time subcommittee chairmanships are confirmed after the 2010 election. I am confident my seniority will be maintained under the arrangement I worked out with Senator Reid,” Specter said in the statement.

Democrats were largely forgiving of Specter for trying to keep his seniority. “I don’t think he’s overstepped his bounds. I think he misspoke about seniority. It’s a matter of what you ask for and what you get,” Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) — who had his 18 years of seniority stripped when he returned to the Senate in 2002 despite an agreement with Democratic leaders that it would be reinstated — said it is a difficult process to go through. “I know that I was disappointed when I went back 35 places” in the Democratic pecking order, Lautenberg said.

Privately, however, some Democrats complained that Reid didn’t vet his initial decision on Specter’s seniority with members of his Conference.

Specter and Reid, in the hours and days following Specter’s party switch, repeatedly said that while the new Democrat would not be given a gavel during this session, he would be treated as if he had served his entire Senate career as a Democrat.

During an April 28 press conference, Reid responded to a question regarding Specter’s status on committees by saying that, while no gavels would change hands, he would keep his seniority.

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