It seems that Harry Reid and Arlen Specter cut a deal regarded Specter post-switch seniority. The deal is that for now, nothing will change. He’ll keep the committee seats he has, but won’t chair anything. But if Specter gets re-elected in 2010, then he’ll be treated as if he’d been a Democrat all along. In other words, a very senior Democrat who’d likely chair the Judiciary committee. It turns out, of course, that many senior-but-slightly-less-senior-than-Specter Democrats aren’t happy about this deal since it’s their oxes that are getting gored.
From a progressive point of view, I think “constructive ambiguity” on this score is the most useful thing. If Specter casts good votes that help brings progressive governance to the country, then progressives will see the Specter courtship as having been useful and put pressure on Senate Democrats to put their egos aside and make good on the promises that were made to Specter. But if he proves to be an obstacle to the progressive agenda, then Barbara Mikulski and others who don’t want to take a back seat to Specter will have a strong case.