The Old Switcheroo
I must admit that I was as surprised as anyone by Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter’s switch to the Democratic Party yesterday, although perhaps I shouldn’t have been. In recent months, I have seen Specter bristle visibly at the treatment he has received from some members of his party, especially after his vote in support of President Obama’s stimulus package.
I thought the president offered an interesting take on how Specter might help the Senate Democratic Caucus at this evening’s “100 Days” press conference. Obama suggested Specter’s switch would liberate the centrist senator politically, thereby allowing him to openly support Democratic legislation on issues like health care, job creation, and infrastructure improvement. As a Republican up for reelection in 2010, Specter might have otherwise felt the need to oppose these kinds of proposals for fear of a primary challenge from the right wing of his party.
Having watched Specter operate for many years now, I have no doubt he will very quickly insert himself into the senior ranks of the Senate Democratic Caucus, with an expectation that his good counsel will be weighed and valued accordingly. It was the loss of this kind of respect from some of his former colleagues that seemed to irk Specter most of all, and helped drive him out of the Republican Party (that, and a desire to get reelected).
I believe Specter when he says that he won’t be a rubber stamp for Democratic legislative priorities, so it will be interesting to see whether he becomes a handful for the president on key issues. I have written before about the pitfalls that unified government can pose for presidents, and adding Specter fully into the Democratic mix could raise the stakes for Obama even higher.

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