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SPECTER OF DOOM FOR GOP

May 12, 2009

SPECTER OF DOOM FOR GOP

By DAPHNE RETTER – NY POST – 29 April 09

WASHINGTON — Sen. Arlen Specter threw Congress into chaos yesterday with the blockbuster announcement of his defection from the Republican Party, potentially giving Democrats the ability to quash any effort to block their agenda in the upper house.

“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 disappointment runs in both directions,” Specter said yesterday.

Specter, of Pennsylvania, added, “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.”

But he bluntly said he made the decision to cross the partisan divide after learning from his pollster last week that he could not win a primary against conservative former Rep. Pat Toomey.

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“I am not prepared to have my 29-year record in the United States Senate decided by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate,” Specter, 79, said.

Assuming that Minnesota Democrat Al Franken wins his court battle to be seated as a senator, Specter’s switch gives Democrats 60 party-line votes. That’s the threshold they need for a filibuster-proof majority that would prevent the GOP’s procedural ability to block legislation on the Senate floor.

Specter, who was known for bucking GOP leadership, said he plans to keep his maverick status as a Democrat, too. He cautioned his new party against assuming that his announcement would put the entire Democratic agenda on easy street.

“I will not be changing my own personal independence or my own approach to individual issues. I will not be an automatic 60th vote,” Specter said.

Still, Capitol Hill Democrats were all but popping champagne bottles in the Capitol as they headed into caucus meetings.

“It has confirmed that we were right about where we want to take America,” gushed Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ).

President Obama called Specter, according to spokesman Robert Gibbs, to say the Democratic Party was “thrilled to have you.”

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the switch posed a “threat to the country.” He said the issue came down to “whether or not in the United States of America our people want the majority party to have whatever it wants, without restraint, without a check or balance.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he has quietly worked to convince Specter to switch for the last five years. He insisted yesterday that he did not extract any promises from Specter to vote with Democrats on any particular bills or procedural matters. .

daphne.retter@nypost.com

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