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Arlen Specter: “The Constitution Is Not a Suicide Pact”

In a conference call focused closely on the possibility of moving health care through reconciliation, Arlen Specter invoked Justice Jackson’s comment to justify his support for putting health care through the reconciliation process. He said Jackson’s comment–that “the Constitution is not a suicide pact”–would be considered applicable to stale-mated government. He later said he’d like to “find a way out of the quagmire we’re in.”

Specter said he did not, however, support efforts to eliminate the filibuster, even saying he would not support Senator Harkin’s efforts to change the rules of the filibuster, since it would not preserve the filibuster’s current function.

As to reconciliation, Specter seemed to ascribe his change of heart from his earlier reluctance to support reconciliation to seeing the number of precedents for which reconciliation had been used: SCHIP, Medicare Advantage, Welfare Reform, and COBRA. He referred to a list of 22 examples, used by both parties.

There was some discussion of the public option. I asked why people were so hesitant to support the public option given the polling showing it was more popular than the health care bill itself. Specter suggested the polls might not be accurate, that perhaps people had not analyzed what the public option would do. I asked whether that was why his colleagues were opposed, and he said he had not had these discussions in the Senate cloakroom. But he got the sense that the opposition to the public option was instead coming from the public.

In almost the same breath, Specter described the concern among everyone about diving poll numbers. Now, Specter is on the record as supporting the public option. But I sure got the sense that his heart is not in it, because of his poll numbers.

But Specter did not have the same concern about pushing health care reform through via reconciliation. So pushing through what Republicans are spinning as a backroom deal (cyncially, I know), is okay. But pushing through a popular policy is bad.

I did ask Specter about two Senate Judiciary related issues. I asked whether he had seen the OLC memo written to retroactively authorize the exigent letters (and some other things). He has not seen it.

And I asked when he had come to supporting Dawn Johnsen. He said it was after his second meeting with Johnsen. I clarified–that was back in May? He said that sounds about right. But then he quickly pivoted and said that “when the President felt very strongly about her and renominated her, he felt he would support her.”

In other words, as bmaz has covered, Specter has supported Johnsen since last May. Which means the Dems have had the votes for her since Al Franken was sworn in.

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