Is "pulling a Jim Jeffords" officially part of the political lexicon now? Seems that way.
News that Sen. Arlen Specter would leave the Republican Party and join the Democratic Party broke Tuesday just as Sen. Patrick Leahy was at a D.C. press conference on an anti-fraud bill. Questions quickly turned to fallout from Specter's decision.
Here's a transcript from a portion of the press conference, courtesy of Leahy's staff. The Vermonter referenced toward the end is Philip Baruth, the political writer and Vermont Daily Briefing blogger. He was in the city to shadow U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, but wow, talk about right place, right time.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) ask you about the news that's breaking right now regarding Senator Specter.
LEAHY: He voted for the bill, too.
GRASSLEY: Yes, I'm only interested in answering questions…
LEAHY: I think out of fairness to Senator Grassley, we should let him leave.
LEAHY: Senator Grassley — Senator Schumer called me this morning to let me know he's going to.
He and I have been friends for — its (inaudible) to be 40 years. We first met when we were both young prosecutors. I was the state's attorney in Chittenden County in Vermont. He was the district attorney of Pennsylvania. We had worked together, met at a prosecutor's meeting, kept in touch, he with me when I was running for the Senate and I with him.
So we have a particular friendship, our personal relationship, and he wanted me to know before it became in the press.
Frankly, in talking with him, I got the impression that he went through much the same that Jim Jeffords did from Vermont, and feeling that the Republican Party, a great party in this country, had left him, not the other way around, and that he'd be more — more comfortable here.
And I — I believe he will. I expect him to be just as independent as ever. It's not — just like — you know, in our — in our caucus we don't have any automatic votes for anything.
But I've worked with — I've worked with Arlen ever since he came here.
We've done numerous pieces of bipartisan legislation, just as Senator Grassley and I have, Senator Hatch and I have.
And I — I think having watched Jim Jeffords agonize over it, I know for some of the things that Senator Specter said to me over the weeks, I know how hard he's agonized. I believe he's going to be happier.
QUESTION: Did you have any (inaudible)? He said he got a call from Schumer (inaudible).
LEAHY: No, I meant Specter. I'm sorry. I said a call from Senator Schumer. I got a call from Senator Specter earlier this morning, who wanted, because of our long friendship, wanted me to know, and I've been — sort of kept quiet until he actually issued his own comment. He had talked with Senator McConnell and Senator Reid, but because of our long personal friendship, he wanted me to know about it. And it was his cancer I was talking about, and (inaudible) cancer.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea (inaudible).
LEAHY: It is not a surprise.
QUESTION: (inaudible) not a surprise?
LEAHY: Well, just because I know him so well. You know, I remember a conversation that Senator Stafford of Vermont told me about. It was right after Jim Jeffords had changed parties. I went in to see, as I usually did when I was in that part of the state, I dropped by to see Senator and Mrs. Stafford. He told me he had gotten a call from former President George Bush about the time that, just before Jim Jeffords changed.
The conversation was something like this, "Bob, it's George." "Hi, George. How are you?"
"I'm fine, Bob," and they did pleasantries about their families and all.
And he says, "Bob, I hear that your senator is thinking of switching parties."
"Well, George, that's right."
"Bob, how do you feel about that? What do we do?"
He said, "Well, George, he was in here to have breakfast with me today and I told him, I said, I think you're going to be a lot happier doing that."
And he said, "Well, thank you, senator."
"You're welcome, Mr. President. Good-bye."
But we knew it in Vermont. We knew it long — apparently long before anybody down here. It was well talked about. I see Bill Baroonth (ph) here from Vermont. He knows everybody was talking about it before it happened. And it wasn't a case — I mean, the Jeffords, the whole family, a long line of distinguished members of the Republican Party, but it was too much and he left.
QUESTION: Regarding Specter, what happens on the Judiciary…
QUESTION: (inaudible) nomination that (inaudible)
QUESTION: (inaudible) nomination (inaudible).
LEAHY: Oh, I don't know. I don't know that. I would hope that we'd have a vote up or down and have a real debate, and have a vote up or down. You know, Democrats never filibustered any of the attorney general positions when President Bush was there, purposely because — in fact, I don't think anybody in the 35 years I've been here, anybody's filibustered a position for assistant attorney general. We've voted them up or down. We might vote against them. We've voted them up or down. So we'll see.
QUESTION: (inaudible) the Democratic side?
QUESTION: (inaudible) we've had the ranking Republican, or at least until a few minutes ago, he was ranking (inaudible)
LEAHY: Well, that's a determination. I'll let Senator Reid — I know what's going to happen. I'll let Senator Reid speak to that, and the caucus will — that's a determination. I'll let Senator Reid. I know what's going to happen, but I'll let Senator Reid speak to that. They asked of him, and (inaudible) Senator Reid (inaudible) what (inaudible).
QUESTION: (inaudible) judicial nomination (inaudible).
LEAHY: You're asking questions that should be asked of him and asked of Senator Reid.
QUESTION: What effect do you think this might have on issues (inaudible)?
LEAHY: He will vote the way he will vote independently on judicial nominations. He always has in the past. He will, no matter who the president is, most of us, he'll — at least I do and I know he does — that you give the president as much leeway as you can, but we have an advise and consent position and we'll take it. You know, if you want to (inaudible).
Same way with you, Ted?
KAUFMAN: Yes, absolutely right. And I think the one thing is that, as you know, Senator Specter started his career in politics as a Democrat in Philadelphia, and then changed to Republican so it's kind of like he's coming home.
LEAHY: OK, thank you. Thank you all very much.