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Sunday, May 16, 2010
On April 28, 2009, Specter announced that, after 44 years as an elected Republican, he was returning to the Democratic Party, citing that he was increasingly "at odds with the (current) Republican philosophy" and indicated that polling showed that it would be difficult for him to win the 2010 Republican senatorial primary against Pat Toomey. Since switching parties, Specter's voting record has shifted to the left and he has voted with the Democratic leadership over 95% of the time.
Specter was born in Wichita, Kansas, the youngest child of Lillie Shanin (Arlen's son named one of his daughters after her), and Harry Specter, who had emigrated from Russia in 1911. He was raised in the Jewish faith in Russell, Kansas, also the hometown of fellow politician Bob Dole. Specter's father served in the U.S. infantry during World War I, and was badly wounded. During the Great Depression, Specter's father was a fruit peddler, a tailor, and a junkyard owner.
Specter studied first at the University of Oklahoma. He transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, majored in International Relations, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1951. During the Korean War, he served stateside in United States Air Force as an officer within the Air Force Office of Special Investigations from 1951 to 1953.
Specter graduated from Yale Law School in 1956 and was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar. That year, he married Joan Levy. They reside in the East Falls section of Philadelphia. They have two sons and four grandchildren: Silvi, Perri, Lilli, and Hatti.
After graduating from Yale Law School, Specter opened a law practice, Specter & Katz, with Marvin Katz, who is now a Federal District Court Judge in Philadelphia. Specter became an assistant district attorney under District Attorney James Crumlish, and was a member of the Democratic Party.
Early political career
At the recommendation of Representative Gerald Ford, he worked for the Warren Commission, investigating the assassination of John F. Kennedy. As an assistant counsel for the commission, he authored or co-authored the "single bullet theory," which suggested the non-fatal wounds to Kennedy and wounds to Texas Governor John Connally were caused by the same bullet. This was a crucial assertion for the Warren Commission, since if the two had been wounded by separate bullets, that would have demonstrated the presence of a second assassin and therefore a conspiracy.[
Specter reproducing the assumed alignment of the single bullet theory
In 1965, Specter ran for District Attorney, on the Republican ticket as a registered Democrat. He handily beat incumbent Jim Crumlish, and subsequently changed his registration to Republican. Although a supporter of capital punishment, as prosecutor he questioned the fairness of the Pennsylvania death penalty statute in 1972.
In 1967, he was the Republican Party standard bearer together with City Controller candidate, Tom Gola, in the mayoral campaign against the Democratic incumbent James Tate. One of their slogans was, "We need THESE guys to watch THOSE guys." He served two terms as District Attorney for the City of Philadelphia, but was defeated in his bid for a third term in 1973 .
In 1976, Specter ran in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate and was defeated by John Heinz. In 1978, he was defeated in the primary for Governor of Pennsylvania by Dick Thornburgh. After several years of private practice with the prestigious Philadelphia law firm Dechert, Price & Rhoads, Specter ran for the Senate in 1980, this time, successfully. He assumed office in January 1981.
On February 16, 2005, Specter announced that he had been diagnosed with an advanced form of Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of cancer. Despite this, Specter continued working during chemotherapy. He ended treatment on July 22. Senator John Sununu (R-New Hampshire) shaved his head to show solidarity with Specter when he was undergoing chemotherapy and was temporarily bald. On April 15, 2008, he announced his cancer had returned, at a stage "significantly less advanced than his Hodgkin's disease when it was originally diagnosed in 2005." He underwent a second round of chemotherapy, which ended on July 14, 2008.
An earlier portrait of Specter
Specter was first elected to the Senate in 1980. He is the longest-serving Senator in Pennsylvania's history; no one else from the state has been elected to five terms in that body. According to polls by Quinnipiac University, Specter has a higher approval rating among Democrats in Pennsylvania than Republicans, 62–55 respectively.
His opposition to Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork in 1987 is seen as an important factor in the nomination's failure. However, he raised the ire of many Democrats with his aggressive questioning of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991, claiming she had committed "flat-out perjury" in her testimony.
In 1998 and 1999, Specter criticized the Republican Party for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Believing that Clinton had not received a fair trial, Specter cited Scots law to render a verdict of "not proven" on Clinton's impeachment. However, his verdict was recorded as "not guilty" in the Senate records.
On October 11, 2002, Arlen Specter voted in favor of H.J.Res.114 authorizing the Iraq War.
In a 2002 PoliticsPA Feature story designating politicians with yearbook superlatives, he was named the "Toughest to Work For." In 2003, the Pennsylvania Report, a subscription-based political newsletter, described Specter as one of the "vanishing breed of Republican moderates" and described his political stance as "'Pennsylvania first' middle of-the-road politics" even though he was known as an "avid Republican partisan."
Soon after the 2004 election, Specter stepped into the public spotlight as a result of controversial statements about his views of the future of the Supreme Court. At a press conference, he stated that:
“ When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, overturn Roe v. Wade, I think [confirmation] is unlikely. The president is well aware of what happened, when a number of his nominees were sent up, with the filibuster. ... And I would expect the president to be mindful of the considerations which I am mentioning. ”
Activist groups interpreted his comments as warnings to President George W. Bush about the implications of nominating Supreme Court justices who are opposed to the Roe v. Wade decision. Specter maintained his comments were a prediction, not a warning. He met with many conservative Republican senators, and based on assurances he gave them, he was recommended for the Judiciary Committee's chairmanship in late 2004. He officially assumed that position when the 109th Congress convened on January 4, 2005.
On March 9, 2006, the USA PATRIOT Act was signed into law. It amended the process for interim appointments of U.S. Attorneys, a clause which Specter wrote during his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The change allowed the Bush Administration to appoint interim U.S. attorneys without term limits, and without confirmation by the Senate. The Bush administration used the law to place at least eight interim attorneys into office in 2006. Specter claims that the changes were added by staff member Brett Tolman. For more information, see dismissal of U.S. Attorneys controversy.
Specter while he was being interviewed by Margot Adler for an episode of Justice Talking on Presidential Signing statements
Specter was very critical of Bush's wiretapping of US citizens without warrants. When the story first broke, he called the effort "inappropriate" and "clearly and categorically wrong." He said, he intended to hold hearings into the matter early in 2006, and had Alberto Gonzales appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer for the program (although Specter declined to force Gonzales to testify under oath). On January 15, 2006, Specter mentioned impeachment and criminal prosecution as potential remedies if Bush broke the law, though he downplayed the likelihood of such an outcome.
On April 9, 2006, Specter, speaking on Fox News about the Bush administration's leaking of classified intelligence, said that "The president of the United States owes a specific explanation to the American people".
However, he voted for the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which placed federal electronic searches almost entirely within the executive branch.
During the 2007–2008 National Football League season, Specter wrote to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell concerning the destruction of New England Patriots Spygate tapes, wondering if there was a link between the tapes and their Super Bowl victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. On February 1, 2008, Roger Goodell stated that the tapes were destroyed because "they confirmed what I already knew about the issue." Specter would release a follow up statement:
“ My strong preference is for the NFL to activate a Mitchell-type investigation, I have been careful not to call for a Congressional hearing because I believe the NFL should step forward and embrace an independent inquiry and Congress is extraordinarily busy on other matters If the NFL continues to leave a vacuum, Congress may be tempted to fill it. ”
Since 2007, Specter has sponsored legislation to fix a longstanding inequity in American law which shuts out a majority of U.S. Armed Forces service members from equal access to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2007, Specter cosponsored the Equal Justice for United States Military Personnel Act of 2007 with Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.). The bill failed in the 110th Congress, and Specter again cosponsored the measure in the 2009 111th Congress.
In December 2008, Specter was involved in a controversy as a result of telling "Polish jokes" at New York's Rainbow Room while speaking at the annual meeting of the Commonwealth Club This had not been his first run in with Americans of Central European descent. In 1998, Specter voted against admitting Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into NATO.
Specter voted in favor of the Senate's version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 on February 10, 2009; he was one of only three Republicans to break ranks with the party and support the bill, which was favored by President Barack Obama and was unanimously supported by the Democratic senators. As a result of his support, many in the Republican mainstream have begun to set up ads calling for his removal from office. Specter was instrumental in ensuring that the act allocated an additional $10 billion to the National Institutes of Health over the next two years. Since becoming a Democrat in the Senate, Specter has been denied seniority on Senate committees.
Specter has called for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which he supported in 1996.
Specter holds the following committee assignments:
Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee on Defense
Subcommittee on Homeland Security
Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies
Committee on Environment and Public Works
Subcommittee on Children's Health
Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health
Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights
Subcommittee on the Constitution
Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs (Chair)
Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law
Committee on Veterans' Affairs
Special Committee on Aging
Specter was chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence from 1995, when the Republicans gained control of the Senate, until 1997, when he became chairman of the Committee on Veterans Affairs. He chaired that committee until 2001 and again from 2003 to 2005, during the times the Republicans controlled the Senate. He also chaired the Judiciary Committee from 2005 to 2007.
Arlen Specter campaigning for re-election
In 1980, Specter became the Republican nominee for Senate when Republican incumbent Richard Schweiker announced his retirement. He faced the former Mayor of Pittsburgh, Peter F. Flaherty. Specter won the election by a 2.5% margin. He was later reelected in 1986, 1992, 1998 and 2004, despite 1992 and 1998 being bad years for Republicans. Specter will run for reelection in 2010, for the first time as a Democrat.
1996 Presidency bid
United States presidential election, 1996
On March 31, 1995, Specter announced his candidacy for President of the United States, to challenge the incumbent Bill Clinton. He entered the race claiming his party needed a candidate who did not conform to the stereotypical religious conservative image. He was critical of Patrick J. Buchanan, Pat Robertson and Ralph E. Reed, Jr., saying all three were far too conservative.
“ Neither this nation nor this party can afford a Republican candidate so captive to the demands of the intolerant right that we end up re-electing a President of the incompetent left. ”
His campaign focused on balancing the federal budget, strict crime laws, and establishing relations with North Korea. Specter said:
“ My commitment to America, is to replace a President who has been inattentive, inactive and indecisive when it comes to America's vital foreign policy interests. ”
His candidacy was not expected to succeed in winning the Republican nomination due to the overwhelmingly large number of social conservatives in the Republican Party. He was, however, able to gain support. Although fellow Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was never overly enthusiastic, he was supportive. Other supportive Republicans were hopeful Specter could trim the party's "far-right fringe." Although his campaign was ultimately unsuccessful at wooing conservatives, it was widely believed he could have had a strong showing among independents. On November 23, 1995, before the start of the primaries, Specter suspended his campaign to endorse Kansas Senator Bob Dole.
United States Senate election in Pennsylvania, 2004
In 2004, Specter faced a challenge in the Republican primary election from conservative Congressman Pat Toomey, whose campaign theme was that Specter was not fiscally conservative enough. The match-up was closely watched nationally, being seen as a symbolic clash between the conservative and moderate wings of the Republican Party. However, most of the state and national Republican establishment, including the state's other senator at the time, Rick Santorum closed ranks behind Specter. Specter was strongly supported by President George W. Bush. Specter narrowly avoided a major upset with 51 percent of the primary vote. Once Specter defeated the challenge from the right, he was able to enjoy great support from independents and some Democrats in his race against Hoeffel. Hoeffel also trailed Specter in name recognition, campaign funds and poll results. Although the two minor candidates were seen as more conservative than Specter, they were only able to take four percent of the vote and Specter was easily reelected.
United States Senate election in Pennsylvania, 2010
Specter is up for re-election to the Senate in 2010, and he has expressed his plans to run again. On March 18, 2009, Specter said that he was not considering running as an independent. He said, "To eliminate any doubt, I am a Republican, and I am running for reelection in 2010 as a Republican on the Republican ticket." Subsequently Specter's 2004 conservative GOP primary challenger, Pat Toomey, announced he will again run for the Republican nomination in the Republican senatorial primary.
However, on April 28, 2009, Specter stated that "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." He said that he is switching party affiliation and will run as a Democrat in the 2010 election. In the same announcement, Specter also said that he had "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 a Republican primary are bleak." A March 2009 Quinnipiac poll indicated that Specter trailed his likely primary challenger, Pat Toomey, by 14 percent (41 percent for Toomey, 27 percent for Specter). Additional polling found that 70 percent of Pennsylvania Republicans disapproved of his recent vote in favor of the Stimulus Bill and that 52 percent of Pennsylvania Republicans disapprove of the job he is doing.Following Specter's switching parties, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele criticized his leaving the Republican Party, claiming that Specter had "flipped the bird" at the GOP.
On Saturday, February 6, 2010 the Pennsylvania Democratic Party overwhelming endorsed US Senator Arlen Specter at the Democratic State Committee's annual endorsement convention which was held in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Specter defeated Joe Sestak by winning over 77% of the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee members vote which far exceeds the 2/3rds threshold needed to claim the endorsement.
According to the National Journal, Specter voted with Democrats 90% of the time since he switched parties, while as a Republican Specter split his votes between with both parties. According to fivethirtyeight.com, between January-March 2009 Specter voted with the Democrats 58% of the time. Following the support of the stimulus package and the entrance of Pat Toomey in the Republican primary, Specter began to vote 16% with Democrats. When switching to become a Democrat, he voted 69% with his new party initially, until Joe Sestak entered the Democratic primary and Specter started to vote 97% of the time.
Specter states that he is "personally opposed to abortion", but is "a supporter of a woman's right to choose". He received a 20 percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America in 2005 based on certain votes related to the regulation of abortion; in 2008, he received 100 percent
Specter supports LGBT rights. He voted to prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation, and was a co-sponsor of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Specter is opposed to same-sex marriage, but is also opposed to a federal ban and supports civil unions.
Specter strongly opposes most gun control, voting against the Brady Bill, background checks at gun shows, the ban on assault weapons, and trigger locks for handguns. His work has included numerous articles on the deterring effect the death penalty has on future crimes.
He supports affirmative action and voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1991, receiving a 76 percent rating from the NAACP in 2008. He was one of only four Republicans to vote against the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act and in recent years has been less enthusiastic about weakening consumer protection laws than many members of his party. In 1995 he was the only Republican to vote to limit tax cuts to individuals with incomes of less than one million dollars. He voted against CAFTA. Specter also supports an increase in the federal minimum wage. He is a leading supporter of the U.S. Public Service Academy.
On immigration, Specter supports a "pathway to citizenship" and a "guest worker program" which opponents call amnesty. He introduced Senate bill S. 2611 (the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006) on 6 April 2006, which was passed by the Senate on May 25, 2006 before reaching a stalemate in the House.
Health care reform
On May 3rd, 2009 Specter went on Meet the Press and was asked "Would you support health care reform that puts up a government run public plan to compete with a private plan issued by a private insurance company?" Specter said no straight up.Two months later, he changed his position and he now supports it.
Specter believes single payer healthcare should not be "taken off the table" in an interview he had with John King on CNN.
On health care reform, Specter was a cosponsor of the Healthy Americans Act, a proposal he supported during both the 110th and 111th Congresses. Specter voted for the Affordable Health Care for America Act, the healthcare bill passed through the Senate by every Democratic senator.
He voted for cloture on the Employee Free Choice Act in 2007. In early 2009, Specter announced that he would not be voting for cloture on the same act in the 111th Congress. After Specter switched parties, he changed his position on the issue again and wrote a letter to the unions that he supported card check legislation.
The Jewish daily The Forward reported in the wake of the July 2009 organ trafficking scandal in the U.S. involving Rabbi Levy Izhak Rosenbaum of Brooklyn that an Organ Trafficking Prohibition Act of 2009, sponsored by Specter, has yet to be officially introduced in the U.S., the preliminary reports cites Israel as a model of a country that has enacted a law providing benefits for organ donors.
Specter criticized the federal government's policy on cancer, stating the day after Jack Kemp—the 1996 Republican vice presidential nominee and former congressman—died of cancer, that Kemp would still be alive if the federal government had done a better job funding cancer research.