Popcorn Another Day: Obama Pardons Presidential Turkey

Dan Friedman, With Jim O'Sullivan And Susan Davis Contributing
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Dan Friedman, with Jim O'Sullivan and Susan Davis contributing
Nov. 27, 2013, 9:35 a.m.

Out­go­ing Sen. Ar­len Specter, D-Pa., in what was likely one of his last lengthy floor speeches, on Tues­day de­cried the ex­odus of mod­er­ates from the Sen­ate and urged main­stream voters to re­ject ex­trem­ism, the tea party and the ideo­lo­gic­al pur­ity tests of Sen. Jim De­Mint, R-S.C.

“The par­tis­an­ship has reached such a high level and comity such a low level, that there is not even the pre­tense of ne­go­ti­ation or com­prom­ise in al­most all situ­ations,” Specter said.

Specter’s take on Sen­ate po­lar­iz­a­tion tracks with state­ments by oth­er out­go­ing sen­at­ors, in­clud­ing Byron Dor­gan, D-N.D., Evan Bayh, D-Ind., and George Voinovich, R-Ohio.

Specter, who while a Re­pub­lic­an was a top tar­get of con­ser­vat­ive pur­ists such as the Club for Growth and made his re­cip­roc­al enmity clear, has pre­vi­ously faul­ted ideo­logues for the de­cline of Sen­ate bi­par­tis­an­ship.

But the re­marks were Specter’s most ex­tens­ive on elect­or­al polit­ics and what he said is the per­ni­cious ef­fect of ex­treme par­tis­an­ship on the Sen­ate since his loss this year in a Demo­crat­ic primary to Rep. Joe Ses­tak, a de­feat that fol­lowed Specter’s de­cision to switch parties last year after con­clud­ing he could not sur­vive a GOP primary chal­lenge by former Rep. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

Though he has been a re­li­able Demo­crat­ic vote since switch­ing parties, Specter seemed to speak Tues­day from the per­spect­ive of a mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­an.

He noted that the GOP mod­er­ate lunch­eon club he joined in 1980 had 18 mem­bers but by 2009 was down to him­self and Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

Without men­tion­ing De­Mint by name, Specter faul­ted the South Car­olini­an’s state­ment that he would prefer “30 Marco Ru­bios” — a con­ser­vat­ive seek­ing the seat held by Sen. George LeMieux, R-Fla. — “than 50 Ar­len Specters.”

Though De­Mint has of­ten irked GOP col­leagues and is not close to Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers, Specter called such views “the pre­vail­ing Re­pub­lic­an motto.”

Specter cited the 2006 primary loss of Sen. Joe Lieber­man, D-Conn., as ex­ample of ideo­lo­gic­al pur­ging on the left but oth­er­wise fo­cused on the con­ser­vat­ive dog­mat­ism he blamed for losses by Sens. Bob Ben­nett, R-Utah, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Rep. Mi­chael Castle, R-Del., in re­cent GOP sen­at­ori­al primar­ies.

He said tea party act­iv­ists do not rep­res­ent all of Amer­ica or even a ma­jor­ity of Re­pub­lic­ans.

“Mod­er­ates and some con­ser­vat­ives have fallen like flies at the hands of the ex­trem­ists in both parties,” said Specter.

He did not of­fer an ex­plan­a­tion for the trend. But he ar­gued Ben­nett had been un­fairly ous­ted by Utah Re­pub­lic­ans largely over his back­ing for the Troubled As­set Re­lief Pro­gram.

Point­ing to the $800 bil­lion stim­u­lus bill passed last year, Specter, who while still a Re­pub­lic­an, joined with Snowe and Collins back­ing the fi­nal ver­sion of the bill, said “pres­sure to toe the party line was tre­mend­ous — the strongest I’ve seen in my 29-year ten­ure. The risk of re­tri­bu­tion was enorm­ous.”

Asked about pres­sure from GOP lead­er­ship to op­pose the bill, Collins said it was sub­stan­tial but that they did not threaten re­tri­bu­tion.

Voinovich, who par­ti­cip­ated in talks over the bill be­fore drop­ping out, said it is “not true at all,” that Re­pub­lic­ans faced un­usu­al pres­sure to vote with lead­er­ship. Still, Voinovich has also made clear his dis­dain for the large amount of par­tis­an polit­ics in the every­day work of the Sen­ate.

Ben­nett, while dis­tan­cing him­self from Specter’s cri­ti­cism of oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans, said he gen­er­ally agreed on the danger pur­ity tests pose for le­gis­la­tion.

Sen. Ben Nel­son of Neb­raska, a con­ser­vat­ive Demo­crat, who him­self has ap­peared to hew right this year amid home-state at­tacks on his sup­port for the health­care over­haul bill, said he ex­pec­ted that Re­pub­lic­ans con­cerned about primary chal­lenges in 2012 would make le­gis­lat­ing hard next year re­gard­less of the Sen­ate break­down.

“I’m not sure what can get done if it’s 52-48, or 56-44, be­cause of the po­lar­iz­a­tion,” Nel­son said.

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