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Public Statements

Press Conference With Senator Arlen Specter

Press Conference

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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SEN. SPECTER: As the Republican Party has moved farther and farther to the right, I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy and more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party. When the stimulus package came up for a vote, I felt that it was indispensable to vote aye in order to avoid the possibility of a 1929-type depression.

In the course of the last several months since the stimulus vote, I have traveled the state and surveyed the sentiments of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania and public opinion polls, observed other public opinion polls, and have found that the prospects for winning the Republican primary are bleak. I am not prepared to have my 29-year record in the United States Senate decided by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate -- not prepared to have that record decided by that jury, the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate. But I'm prepared today take on all comers -- all comers -- in a general election. And therefore, I have decided to be a candidate for reelection in 2010 in the Democratic primary.

This is a painful decision. I know that I'm disappointing many of my friends and colleagues. But, frankly, I have been disappointed by some of the responses, so the -- the disappointment runs in both directions.

I do not undertake this because of the absence of other challenging or interesting things that I could undertake outside the Senate, but I do this because there are many projects that I want to move ahead for Pennsylvania with my continuing seniority in the United States Senate. And one of the key interests I have is medical research, and want to continue my work in that field. I think it is fair and accurate to say with the increases in funding for National Institutes of Health, which I have spearheaded, have saved or prolonged many lives, including my own.

One item that I want to emphasize, that I will not be changing my own personal independence or my own approach to individual issues. I will not be an automatic 60th vote. 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. And I would illustrate that by my position on employee's choice, also known as card check. I think it is a bad deal, and I'm opposed to it and would not vote to invoke cloture. But that's only indicative of my view in that respect.

I have always agreed with John Kennedy that sometimes a party asks too much. And if the Democratic Party asks too much, I will not hesitate to disagree and vote my independent thinking in what I consider as a matter of conscience to be in the interest of the state and nation.

Okay.

Q Senator, are you putting your personal ambition ahead of principle?

SEN. SPECTER: No, I'm putting principle at the top of the list. The principles that I subscribe to are my independence, which I will retain regardless of party label. I believe that I have a great deal to offer in terms of continuing service. I'm full of vim, vigor, and vitality.

There are lots of things I want to do. I would headline that with medical research. Just today, I introduced legislation to bridge the gap between scientific discoveries at the National Institutes of Health and bring it in, as they call it, from the bench to the bedside. And I have been at the forefront of issues on civil rights and executive power. And I've been in the middle of the immigration issue; very active on Mid East foreign issues -- Iran, Syria.

So that I think I have a lot to contribute. And I would not suffer from lack of interesting and important things to do if I were a private citizen.

Yeah.

Q Senator -- Senator, how did your Republican colleagues receive this news as -- (off mike)? And have you spoken to President Obama?

SEN. SPECTER: Which one of your questions do you want answered? Because you only got -- you only got one.

Q Well, one and a follow.

SEN. SPECTER: Oh, well, that's all right then. (Laughter.)

The answer to your second question is yes.

And the answer to your first question is it was a polite session when I talked to the members. Senator Cochran said at least he wouldn't have to go to Erie any more to campaign for me. (Laughter.) And everybody that I passed on the way out was friendly and with friendly handshakes. I don't take that to mean that there aren't some people who are disappointed, but I think people respect my sincerity and respect what I have done in the Senate and respect what I intend to continue to do.

Q If you win reelection, given your seniority, do you expect to chair a committee in the next Congress? Do you have any guarantees or any arrangement that you would have a chairmanship?

SEN. SPECTER: In discussing that issue with Senator Reid, the fair approach which we both agreed to was to be where I would be had I been a Democrat coming into the Senate with my election in 1980. So you can take a look at the charts and figure out exactly where I'd be.

Q Senator McConnell just said --

Q Senator, I had a follow. If I could just follow on --

Q You mentioned -- you mentioned Senator Reid.

SEN. SPECTER: Danna (sp).

Q Can you give us some insights into your conversations with Senator Reid and then, bigger picture,when you made this decision and how you made this decision? Was it -- because you have been making a lot of statements recently -- I mean, from your statements, it sounded like you are a Republican and you intended to stay in the Republican Party? So what changed?

SEN. SPECTER: The decision has been reached gradually as I have traveled the state in the last several months. And specifically, I got my own poll results back last Friday -- last -- late last week, and consulted with my campaign managers, and had a long discussion with Joan and my son Shanin over the weekend, and came to a decision over this past weekend.

Q Have the Democrats been lobbying you? Has Senator Reid -- (off mike)? They have been working on you for five years -- (off mike).

SEN. SPECTER: What did you say about --

Q Have the Democratic leaders been lobby you? Have they been pushing you to make this move?

SEN. SPECTER: Yes, I have had overtures from many of the Democratic leaders on a continuing basis. The overtures have been going on for the last five years, when they saw my voting record and saw the approach that I was taking to government.

And I have steadfastly rejected it on the ground that I think it is very important to have a two-party system and a moderate wing of the two-party system. And I have nothing but compliments for Senator McConnell, and said so in my written statement -- and for -- and Senator Cornyn -- and have said so, and for the entire caucus. The entire caucus has been first -- first rate.

But when you take a look at the Pennsylvania Republican electorate, several hundred thousand Republicans shifted last year, and it has a bleak picture. We do not have a dominant voice there. But we find, I think regrettably, that the extremes of both parties are taking over. A senator like Joe Lieberman can't win a primary in Connecticut.

I had a 1 percent primary in 2004. And to repeat, the word that I use is "bleak."

Q Senator?

SEN. SPECTER: Yeah.

Q To clarify -- (off mike) -- clarification, when you said if you get reelected you'll come back here at the level of seniority, what about between now and the next election?

SEN. SPECTER: Same thing.

Q So does that mean you're chairman of the Judiciary Committee?

SEN. SPECTER: No. Senator Leahy is senior to me in tenure. He was elected in 1974. I would be behind Senator Leahy.

Q Well, what about --

(Cross talk.)

Q Will you -- (off mike) --

SEN. SPECTER: I'd be behind Senator Leahy again.

Q Senator?

Q (Off mike) -- on Appropriations?

SEN. SPECTER: Well, I came in ahead of Senator Harkin. He was elected in 1984.

Yes.

Q (Off mike) -- you're going to be the chairman of the Health Subcommittee of the Appropriations --

SEN. SPECTER: We haven't worked that out yet.

Q Senator Specter, when you -- as you were going through this decision and you thought about these issues and your stances that have differed from your party's, there is no -- there's none more so than on stem cells -- (off mike). I'm wondering what role health care played in your decision, health care issues broadly. Of all the issues you had to -- (off mike).

SEN. SPECTER: Well, I've been involved in a lot of significant issues like Supreme Court nominations -- nine of them -- like executive power, warrantless wiretaps, and interrogation techniques, and like stem cells and NIH funding, and I could go on and on and on. And it is an accumulation of factors. But as I said in the statement, the stimulus vote was a schism. And I used some language from domestic relations law, irreconcilable conflict. Any of you married here?

Q Senator Specter?

SEN. SPECTER: Yeah. Then I'll take you.

Q Senator Specter, how are you going to vote on the Dawn Johnson confirmation?

SEN. SPECTER: I'm opposed to the nominee for assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, Dawn Johnson.

Yes, question.

Q Senator --

Q Did you speak to anybody in the Obama administration, in the president or the vice president's office? And did they have any sway in your decision-making?

SEN. SPECTER: Did I talk to either the president or the vice president?

Q Yes.

SEN. SPECTER: The vice president, in a public event in Philadelphia, when he came up to talk about the stimulus package several months ago, said to -- in a news conference that he urged me to become a Democrat. And then Governor Rendell, who was there, urged me to become a Democrat. And Governor Rendell said if I became a Democrat, he would help me raise money. And I responded, if I became a Democrat, I wouldn't need him to help me raise money. (Laughter.) I've changed my mind about that. (Laughter.)

Q Sir?

SEN. SPECTER: Yeah?

Q (Off mike) -- about the Republican Party in Pennsylvania? And why do you think they were getting behind Pat Toomey?

SEN. SPECTER: What --

Q What does this say about the Republican Party in Pennsylvania right now? And why do you think that they were supporting Pat Toomey with a --

SEN. SPECTER: Well, the party has shifted very far to the -- to the right. It was pretty far to the right in 2004. But you take away a couple hundred thousand Republicans and they want to vote in the Democratic primary, they're dissatisfied with the party is a pretty obvious conclusion. So if you do the numbers and add to that a stimulate vote, that's where I end up saying the prospects were bleak.

Q Senator, why has the Republican Party become the party of extremes lately? How has this happened?

SEN. SPECTER: Because most of the people do not participate in the political process. That is a very important question and maybe an important answer. If the electorate as a whole participated in the political process and in the primary process, Joe Lieberman would win the primary in Connecticut hands-down and I'd do the same thing in Pennsylvania. There are plenty of people who agree with Joe Lieberman and Arlen Specter, but they're non-participants.

Yeah?

Q (Off mike) -- your leadership, Senator McConnell and others? And did they try to convince you to not --

SEN. SPECTER: I'm sorry. I didn't understand your question.

Q When did you inform your leadership that you were changing parties? And did they try to dissuade you or --

SEN. SPECTER: When did I talk to the leaders? I talked to Senator Reid last night about 6 and I talked to Senator McConnell a little after 6.

Q Did you, Senator, get any commitment from the president, Senator Reid or the Democratic Senatorial Committee that they would support you in a primary?

SEN. SPECTER: Yes, on all counts. President -- I called this morning and he said he would support me, come to Pennsylvania and campaign for me.

Q And the Democratic -- you're assuming the Democratic --

SEN. SPECTER: And Senator Reid said that he would do the same. And talked to Governor Rendell this morning, and he suggested a meeting among Democratic leadership in Washington tomorrow to formally endorse my candidacy.

(Cross talk.)

SEN. SPECTER: I don't know.

Q Senator Specter?

SEN. SPECTER: Yeah? I'll come to you next.

Q Were you at all pushed out by Republicans here?

SEN. SPECTER: What's that?

Q Did you feel at all pushed out by Republicans here? I know you talked about Republicans in Pennsylvania. What about Republicans here? I heard Senator DeMint was going to come out in favor of your opponent in the Republican primary.

SEN. SPECTER: What about Republicans here? Well, first I have to find out how many of you here are Republicans. Will you raise your hands? (Laughter.) That's what I thought. You take the Fifth. (Laughter.)

Q (Off mike) -- Fifth.

SEN. SPECTER: To give you a serious answer to your question, Republicans didn't rally to Wayne Gilchrest in Maryland. He was beaten by the Club for Growth and the far right. They lost the general election.

Republicans didn't rally to the banner of Joe Schwarz in Michigan, and he was beaten by a conservative and the Club for Growth. They lost the general election.

Republicans didn't rally to Heather Wilson in New Mexico last year -- and she was beaten in a primary -- and lost in the general election.

The Club for Growth challenged Linc Chafee. Remember Linc Chafee? They made him spend all his money in the primary, and he lost the general. And had Linc Chafee been elected in 2006, the Republicans would have controlled the Senate in 2007 and '8. And I would have been chairman of the committee. And President Bush nominated 13 circuit judges. They were all left on the table for President Obama. And President Bush nominated 21 district court judges, and they were all left on the table for President Obama.

Now take the social conservatives in America and how they prize circuit judges. Remember what we went through for Judge Southwick last year to get a circuit judge confirmed?

And one of my opponent's principal advisers said: We don't care about stage two. Stage one -- we want to beat Arlen Specter. We'll worry about stage two later.

They don't make any bones about their willingness to lose the general election if they can purify the party. I don't understand it, but that's what they say.

And for the people who are Republicans to sit by and allow them to continue to dominate the party after they beat Chafee, cost us Republican control of the Senate and cost us 34 federal judges -- there ought to be a rebellion. There ought to be an uprising.

So thanks for asking me the question about what are the Republicans like here.

Yes, ma'am?

Q Senator Specter, do you think that this makes the deadline which is being set for the budget reconciliation by the White House something that is now off the table or something that will change doing health care before --

SEN. SPECTER: I'm opposed to reconciliation to be used for health care or any other substantive legislative issue. I think it would undermine an important institutional prerogative of the Senate to require 60 votes on these complicated matters. I thought that when I -- whether I would be a Republican or a Democrat.

Q Does that mean that you won't vote for the conference report --

SEN. SPECTER: What's that?

Q Does that mean you won't vote for the budget conference report if it includes reconciliation?

SEN. SPECTER: Well, let me take a look at it before I answer that question. I try to know what I'm talking about. Let me take a look at it.

Q Senator Specter --

SEN. SPECTER: Yes, sir? As you chased me down the hall, you deserve more primacy than this. (Laughter.) One of many.

Q You said that you made this decision after reviewing your poll numbers.

And I'm just curious -- you said you made this decision after reviewing your poll numbers this weekend. How do you expect your constituents not to view this decision, then, just as basically a pure political calculation?

SEN. SPECTER: Well, it's a combination of factors. If you take a look at my voting record on a wide variety of issues, on voting on Pell grants, you take a look at my position on executive authority, you take a look at my position on stem cells or my position on NIH funding generally, it is a large number of figures. I have to make a calculation as to whether it's possible -- realistic -- to fight for the moderate wing of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania. And I do not think it's realistic. It's bleak.

Paul.

Q But at the same time, you've made a lot of enemies among Pennsylvania liberals over the last 20 years, going back to -- (off mike) -- comments -- (off mike) -- a host of other issues. What fence-mending are you going to set out to do with those Democrats who make a big deal about getting all 67 counties without all 67 county chairmen?

SEN. SPECTER: Well, when you count off people who have disagreed with my votes, you can include virtually everybody. I've voted 10,000 times. I don't expect everybody to agree with all my votes. I don't agree with them all myself at this point. (Laughter.)

But you -- Paul, you can pick out votes and they'd all -- people would all disagree with me. There were two votes I cast about 20 years ago where I alienated the entire electorate with those two votes. I'm not going to tell you what they were. Why should I give fodder to that? (Laughter.)

But the Harrisburg Patriot had a Sunday article -- two days old now, so who knows whether it's still operative -- saying I alienated the Republicans with the -- with the stimulus package and alienated all the Democrats with the employee's choice, and you can't win a(n) election in Pennsylvania without labor. And I'm going to vote the way I see it. And I'm going to take my chances.

Q Is becoming Appropriations Committee chairman a possibility in the future? And is that your ultimate personal goal?

SEN. SPECTER: Well, it is something I'd like to attain. I can't deal with the numbers. You know who the people are, and who's going to run for reelection and who's going to do what remains to be seen.

Q Senator Specter?

Q Climate change, Senator --

SEN. SPECTER: Yeah.

Q Senator, you signed onto a letter with the other Republicans about judicial nominees. What will be your approach going forward on those nominees and -- (off mike)?

SEN. SPECTER: Well, I am willing to listen to any judicial nominee. When we had the concern over Hamilton, it was a question of whether we had adequate time to prepare.

And I will counsel the chairman to provide adequate time to prepare. That's what I would do.

Q Will your approach be different -- (off mike)?

SEN. SPECTER: No. No.

Q Senator, on what issues, if any, do you anticipate butting heads with your fellow Democrats?

SEN. SPECTER: Butting heads with my fellow Democrats?

Q On what particular issues, if any, do you foresee --

SEN. SPECTER: Well, it all depends on whether those fellow Democrats are wrong and stubborn. (Laughter.) And if they are, I'll bump heads with them. (Chuckles.) And if they're reasonable -- that is, agree with me -- copacetic.

Yeah?

Q Senator Specter, are you going to be (as enthused ?) about reining in executive power as a Democrat as you were as a Republican?

SEN. SPECTER: Yes.

Q Do you have any commitments from the majority leader to move any of these issues?

SEN. SPECTER: (Laughs.) No. I didn't get into talking to him about issues. That would have been a long, perhaps unpleasant, conversation. (Laughter.) So I avoided that.

Does any of you literati read The New York Review of Books?

Q Senator --

SEN. SPECTER: You read The New York Review of Books? If you do, I'll call on you. I have an article in The New York Review of Books on executive power. Just came out on Thursday. I haven't found anybody yet who read it, but --

Yes, sir?

Q Are you going to start caucusing immediately with the Democrats?

SEN. SPECTER: What's that?

Q Are you going to start caucusing immediately with the Democrats?

SEN. SPECTER: Well, give me a week to think about it. I don't have to decide that until next Tuesday at noon.

Q Senator, have you changed your party registration?

SEN. SPECTER: Hmm?

Q Have you changed your party registration?

SEN. SPECTER: I can't do that until May. Registration is closed in Pennsylvania at the moment. But I intend to change my registration.

Anything else? Thank you all very much.


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