CNN and the Washington Post are reporting that Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania plans to switch parties and become a Democrat. Assuming Al Franken is also seated as Minnesota’s newest senator, this would give the Democrats a 60 vote, potentially filibuster-proofÂ majority in the Senate.
Specter is planning to hold a press conference this afternoon to discuss his decision. Had he remained a Republican, SpecterÂ would have faced a tough primary challenge from former Rep. Pat Toomey next year.
UPDATE: In a statement, Specter said his vote for the stimulus “caused a schism” between himself and GOP party leaders and primary voters “which makes ourÂ differences irreconcileable.”
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. […]
I am unwilling to have my twenty-nine year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate. I have not represented the Republican Party. I have represented the people of Pennsylvania.
But Specter also cautioned that Democrats won’t always be able to count on him to end a filibuster on every issue:
My change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats [than]I have been for the Republicans. Unlike Sen. [Jim] Jeffords’ switch, which changed party control, I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture. […]
Whatever my party affiliation, I will continue to be guided by President Kennedy’s statement that sometimes Party asks too much. When it does, I will continue my independent voting and follow my conscience on what I think is best for Pennsylvania and America.