Published Tuesday, April 28, 2009 | 10:41 a.m.
Updated Wednesday, April 29, 2009 | 2:18 p.m.
Sen. Harry Reid statement
“I have known Senator Specter for more than a quarter-century. He has always been a man of honor and integrity, and a fine public servant.
“Senator Specter and I have had a long dialogue about his place in an evolving Republican Party. We have not always agreed on every issue, but Senator Specter has shown a willingness to work in a bipartisan manner, put people over party, and do what is right for Pennsylvanians and all Americans.
“I welcome Senator Specter and his moderate voice to our diverse caucus, and to continuing our open and honest debate about the best way to make life better for the American people.”
Sen. John Ensign statement
“To say that I am disappointed is putting it mildly. I can only hope that his decision is not the death knell for bipartisanship. It is imperative that we have checks and balances to ensure that Democrats don’t take our country radically left.”
WASHINGTON — Just last month, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid disclosed that he had talked with Sen. Arlen Specter about the prospect of the long-serving Pennsylvania Republican switching parties.
Today, those conversations seem fruitful as word comes that Specter is indeed changing party affiliation, according to reports.
Specter could help nudge Democrats to the magical number of 60 – the amount of senators needed to overcome Republican filibusters that can block the legislative agenda.
Reid essentially operates with a 58-seat majority -- but if Democratic candidate Al Franken wins the still-contested Minnesota Senate race that would push Reid’s majority to 60.
Specter, a moderate Republican, was crucial earlier this year in advancing the Obama administration’s economic recovery bill – one of three Republican senators who crossed party lines to vote with Democrats. The bill passed with exactly 60 votes (one Democrat, Sen. Edward Kennedy, was absent.)
In Reid’s autobiography, he writes that Specter always votes with the Democrats when they don’t need him.
Perhaps those days have changed.
Yet veteran Senate-watcher Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report reminds that 60 is “an arbitrary number” and not a guarantee of a filibuster-proof Senate.
Specter, she notes, is not one to change his position on key issues, and may not be likely to do so now.
The switch, she believes, is more symbolic for the message it sends about a Republican Party that is unable to make room for a moderate like Specter.
Coming on the eve of President Barack Obama’s 100th day, the switch is deep in symbolism, indeed.