In a news conference to talk about his switch to the Democratic Party, Sen. Arlen Specter said of controversial Office of Legal Counsel nominee Dawn Johnsen: ”I’m opposed to the nominee.” But he declined to say whether he would vote with his new party on a procedural motion to end debate on her nomination, telling Main Justice’s Andrew Ramonas after the news conference: ”I’m all out of answers.”
The stunning news earlier today that the ranking Senate Judiciary Committee member, for years a lonely Republican moderate, will switch his party affiliation immediately put into play the question of whether Democrats were one vote closer to cloture on Johnsen. The liberal Indiana University law professor needed two Senate Republicans to end debate. Click here to read our last report on the close confirmation vote.
If Al Franken is seated pending resolution of ex-Sen. Norm Coleman’s (R) legal challenges in the disputed Minnesota Senate election, Democrats will have a filibuster-proof 60-vote margin with Specter’s party switch. But it’s unclear whether or when Franken will be seated. A Senate Democratic aide today said the leadership is still short of cloture on Johnsen and is unsure how her situation will play out.
Some good news for Johnsen: Conservative Senate Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska will vote for cloture. The anti-abortion Nelson has expressed doubts about the Johnsen, who was both an abortion-rights lawyer and a leading activist against the Bush-era legal policies that authorized torture. But he told Main Justice this afternoon that he will vote with his party on the procedural motion to end debate against Johnsen. Then he will vote “nay” on her actual confirmation. Specter could split the difference in a similar way. But that’s okay for Johnsen: If Senate Democrats can end debate on her nomination, she will only need a simple majority for confirmation.
Specter’s party switch was in response to a very tough GOP primary battle he was facing against conservative former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters in the Senate today he had spoken with Specter about switching parties “once…a few weeks ago.”
THIS POST WAS UPDATED AT 2:51 P.M.
Read Specter’s statement on his party switch here.
Here is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s statement on Specter:
REID STATEMENT ON ARLEN SPECTER
Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today:
“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.”