Obama, Biden welcome Specter to the party

In a meeting at the White House, the president and vice-president officially introduce the newest Democratic senator.

Published April 29, 2009 2:05PM (EDT)

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter may have announced his party switch on Tuesday, but Wednesday morning President Obama and Vice President Biden made it really official, bringing the newest Democratic senator to the White House for a coming-out party.

Biden, who'd reportedly been encouraging Specter to become a Democrat for years, and had spoken with him about it many times over the past few months, was particularly excited. And naturally, that meant he talked about trains.

"Arlen Specter has been my friend and my confidant and my partner, and I his partner, in scores and scores of major, major pieces of legislation and issues for a long time. And beyond that, Mr. President, he’s been there for me every time things have been tough for me, and I hope I have been there for him," Biden said. "And it gives me great pleasure, great pleasure, Mr. President, to now officially be in the same caucus with Arlen Specter. We’ve ridden the train for so many years, we’ve visited each other’s homes, our families, that it is -- it’s just, as, again, a point of personal privilege, it’s just a delight to have no separation."

(Obama got in his own train joke at the end of the announcement, cracking, "I’m grateful that [Specter] is here. And I’m also grateful that Joe Biden paid him a little attention on the train.")

For the most part, Specter repeated his message from Tuesday, telling those in attendance:

I was unwilling to subject my 29-year record in the United States Senate to the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate, but I am pleased to run in the primary on the Democratic ticket and am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers in a general election.

I have not represented the Republican Party; I have represented the people of Pennsylvania. And I will continue to do just that. As I said yesterday, I will not be an automatic 60th vote. There have been positions, which I talked about yesterday and will not re-enumerate, where I stand in a different position from the traditional position of the Democrats, and I will continue that independence.

The senator did add a new story, though. "The President approached me when he was Senator Obama, before the Democratic primary. And he said, 'Tell me, Arlen, if a Jewish kid from Kansas can carry Pennsylvania, how can a black kid from Kansas carry Pennsylvania?' And I gave him some advice, and he became President of the United States of America."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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Arlen Specter D-pa. Barack Obama Joe Biden