Breaking: PA Sen. Arlen Specter to switch parties, giving Dems 60 seat filibuster-proof majority (soon). “The Republican Party has moved far to the right…. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats.”

In a stunning piece of political theater with dramatic consequences for clean energy, global warming, and the entire progressive agenda, the Washington Post has just reported:

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter will switch his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat and announced today that he will run in 2010 as a Democrat, according to a statement he released this morning.

Specter’s decision would give Democrats a 60 seat filibuster proof majority in the Senate assuming Democrat Al Franken is eventually sworn in as the next Senator from Minnesota. (Former Sen. Norm Coleman is appealing Franken’s victory in the state Supreme Court.)

Needless to say, as a Republican facing a tough primary challenge from the right, he was a lost vote on global warming legislation.  One assumes that if he is going to seriously run as a Democrat, he’ll support an energy and climate bill.

Here’s more:

“I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary,” said Specter in a statement. “I am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers and have my candidacy for re-election determined in a general election.”

He added: “Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.”

Specter as a Democrat would also fundamentally alter the 2010 calculus in Pennsylvania as he was expected to face a difficult primary challenge next year from former Rep. Pat Toomey. The only announced Democrat in the race is former National Constitution Center head Joe Torsella although several other candidates are looking at the race.

The precariousness of Specter’s political position — a Republican in a Democratic-leaning state — was on display earlier this year when he was one of three GOP Senators to back President Barack Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus plan. That vote was strongly condemned by conservative Republicans and Toomey used that vote as the launching pad for his candidacy.

Because of the shrinking Republican vote in the state, Specter was seen as a dead man walking politically in the primary with polling showing him trailing Toomey by ten or more points. The bar for Specter to run as an independent was also extremely high due to the rules governing such a third party candidacy.

That left a Democratic candidacy as Specter’s best option if he wanted to remain in the Senate beyond 2010.

Kudos to Specter for this move, combining political opportunism with political idealism.

And what a powerful message it should send to all moderates and independents that the death grip the right wing has on the GOP is the road to a permanent minority.

20 Responses to Breaking: PA Sen. Arlen Specter to switch parties, giving Dems 60 seat filibuster-proof majority (soon). “The Republican Party has moved far to the right…. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats.”

  1. Fan-frakking-tastic!

    Oops… Can I use a BG cuss on Climate Progress? I wonder if Olympia will join him?

  2. Oh… and a new photo of the Wilkins Ice Shelf, if anyone is interested.

  3. SecularAnimist says:

    “One assumes that if he is going to seriously run as a Democrat, he’ll support an energy and climate bill.”

    Why should one assume that? There are already too many Democrats in the pay of the fossil fuel corporations. They may not invite Monckton and other denialist frauds to testify at committee hearings, or claim that environmentalists think CO2 is a “carcinogen”, like the Republicans do. But they are working just as hard, and perhaps more effectively, to obstruct and/or gut any effective emissions reductions, as any Republican. What are Specter’s ties to the coal industry in Pennsylvania? What is his record on climate change and energy issues? Will any Democrats who are better than Specter on energy and climate issues be likely to run against him in the primary? That would be an interesting topic for an article here.

    [JR: Which Senate Democrats are in the pay of fossil fuel corps? What matters is now, not 2011!]

  4. Reply says:

    An interesting move. It displays a certain acknowledgment by republicans that the next 8 years will be democratic leaning. Now we shall see if the nullification of republican power splits the democratic party.

  5. Tim R. says:

    Off topic comment:

    I read a great piece in the NYT science pages last night about locating homo florensis on the human family tree. Of course the entire piece assumed the theory of evolution was true. Nowhere did I see an alternative voice saying the these hobbit people were created 8000 years ago, just like all the other plants and animals.

    Creationists, just like climate deniers, have conferences and articles and textbooks and all the trappings of science. But no serious science writer would feel the need to give them space in an article about cutting edge evolutionary science. Why is climate science treated differently than evolution by the NYT and most major media outlets?

  6. Sasparilla says:

    This is fantastic news….it will make things a little easier.

  7. Dean says:

    Since Penn is a coal state, I second SecularAnimist that he is no easy convert to strong climate legislation, though he is no Inhofe (and wasn’t anyway). He’ll probably be a stronger Dem on issues like health care than climate.

    I wonder what committee chair the Dems promised to him.

  8. Thomas says:

    good day to be a Pennsylvanian.

  9. hapa says:

    seems like it gives more power to go-slow dems, not less.

  10. Perhaps we might think about a threat that will overwhelm USA and EU as a developed world that has relevance in dealing with the threat of climate change. While still working out ways to act against global warming, serious concern for our industrial economy needs to be held as a continuing priority. Overspending on present plans should be avoided to the degree it jeopardizes continuing national economic vitality, whereby long term climate progress could actually be harmed.

    A recent Wall Street Journal article discussed SAIC, China’s auto company, agreeing with American companies to bring battery technology into China. I perceive this as an innocuous symptom of a serious long term trend.

    China has shown intense determination to establish its national self as a well captitalized industrial collossus. Perhaps they will not be at all afraid of having partners from outside, though in all cases, the Chinese government seems to keep ultimate control. This will come to grief far worse than simply losing some battery technology. We might expect that the learning they manage through this will include all the knowledge of industrial processes that go with making a battery such as this as well as basic product details.

    It is hard to imagine a more powerful plan. For some time they have been raising capital by selling us, the developed world, products that we should have been making for ourselves, only they are able to undercut our labor pricing so dramatically that we went into a competitive coma and much enjoyed the resulting easy living. And of course we borrowed money from China to finance our consumption. China seems to now be in possession of a venture capital fund like never seen before.

    This current deal is just one of many such transactions, the set of which is truly alarming. The alarming part is that we are slipping into third world status as if a glacier was slowly sliding down over the North America and Europe. No, the alarming part is that we have not shown a will to overcome this by competitive innovation which we might still manage. Instead we are trying to figure out how to get credit flowing again to enable spending. We make a pretense of innovation as long as it fits within a set framework, but there is very little interest in challenging the bigger system picturel.

    The Chinese seem to have risen high above the bickering about communism, socialism, capitalism, etc., and instead are simply organizing themselves to advance their prosperity.

    What we need to be concerned about is that China, not us, will be the agenda setting power center that the present developed world now is, or at least thinks it is. Thus, it looks like we have a very large problem to contend with, and climate control action needs to fit in the solution of that large problem.

    Arlen Specter brings a center that the Republicans lost into the Democratic side. Hopefully he will bring over a little of a “conserving” attitude that is needed to balance National actions.

  11. Dean says:

    I think that the main answer for Tim R’s question is that there are no multi-billion dollar corporations whose bottom line depends on creationism. And secondarily, nobody needs to give up gas guzzlers or wasteful lifestyles. Evolution vs creation is an abstract issue for most people, doesn’t affect their lifestyle.

  12. EricG says:

    There is a difference between voting for the climate bill and voting for cloture. Specter doesn’t have to support the climate bill to allow it an “up / down vote”. This may be too fine a line for the electorate in general, but how can a Senator who caucuses with the Dems support a filibuster against a bill introduced by the Dems? Does that happen?

  13. MikeB says:

    Joe, your title is wrong, the fillibuster-proof majority is imaginary. Specter explicitly stated: “Unlike Senator Jeffords’ switch which changed party control, I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture.”

    The switch is good news for Dems in general, and climate legislation in specific, but the reality is that Specter will continue to be part of a group of moderate senators that will need convincing on many issues, and the best we can hope for is that the fillibuster will fail more often than before.

    [JR: There are no automatic vote for anything. But since he now wants to run as a Dem, he will most likely support Dems on key votes. That’s the way the world works.]

  14. Milan says:

    You would think that the Republican Party will eventually need to embrace climatic science. After all, the whole world has basically done so now, if you look at serious scientists and governments.

    That being said, this is also the party of evolution denial.

    It would be interesting to see what a right-wing American party that acknowledged key realities about the world would actually look like…

  15. Craig says:

    Specter’s aisle jump is a reason to rejoice but also reflect. It means passing meaningful climate legislation in the Senate becomes slightly more doable.

    But should we even be having this conversation? Should we even be analyzing the strategic importance of Specter’s decision?

    Legislation that reduces carbon emissions based on scientific recommendations is an absolute no-brainer. Considering what is at stake for our civilization, every single member of the Senate should have supported this years ago. The two parties might have had different ideas on how to get it done. That’s fair enough. But there should never have been a debate on whether it would get done.

    Specter’s decision is another stark reminder of how movement conservatism has twisted the formation of public policy in this country by relentlessly politicizing every issue instead of making decisions based on the best available evidence at hand.

  16. Ronald says:

    this is when I really like to read the conservative blogs. gotta go.

  17. Norris Hall says:

    The Republdican party is heading for extinction.
    That’s sad because A lot of Americans support their smaller government, less spending philosphy
    They just can’t stand atheir anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-enviornment,pro Christian, pro white, pro gun
    And the right Taliban Christian wiing of the Republican party has made it clear that if you can’t buy the entrie package, you need not apply

    Pretty soon the only person left will be Rush Limbaugh

    It’s time for moderate Republicans to leave and form their own party. Leave the term “Republican” to the narrow minded bigots, right wing racists and white supremicists, and eva

  18. David B. Benson says:

    Say goodby to the party of Lincoln, known is those days as “the radical Republicans”.

  19. Don'tTreadOnMeVa says:

    Sen. Arlen Specter,
    Don’t let the door knob hit ya in the a%% on the way out!


  20. Don'tTreadOnMeVa says:

    This is a great thing for the republican party. It helps them shed off the ones that dont act like republicans. The next election the republicans have a chance to get back to basic and principles that are its strength!