The trials and travails of Arlen Specter

The senator's new colleagues in the Senate Democratic Caucus deny him his full seniority, which could hurt his reelection effort.

Published May 6, 2009 1:45PM (EDT)

Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., didn't have a great day on Tuesday. The news that he'd told the New York Times Magazine that he wants former Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., to come out victorious in the legal battle over his old seat set off a mini-frenzy. And then his fellow Senate Democrats denied him seniority on the five committees on which he serves.

When he announced his party switch, Specter told reporters that his new colleagues had promised he'd be treated as if he'd been a Democrat for all his years in the Senate, retaining his seniority and high-ranking status on those committees. But a resolution passed Tuesday night gives him no credit for his prior service, making him a junior member.

This move will apparently be reconsidered in 2011, assuming Specter still holds his seat by then, but it could hurt him before then -- without the seniority, he won't have as much sway and won't be able to promise as much to voters in his home state.

Other Senate Democrats had been angered by the prospect of Specter retaining his seniority, as it meant he'd be able to leapfrog over them and get prized chairmanships of committees and subcommittees. But that apparently wasn't the only factor -- an unnamed Democratic aide told Politico that Specter's comments about Coleman played a role.

Specter has walked back those remarks, telling Congressional Quarterly, "In the swirl of moving from one caucus to another, I have to get used to my new teammates. I'm ordinarily pretty correct in what I say. I've made a career of being precise. I conclusively misspoke."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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Arlen Specter D-pa.