Rattled by the defection of Jim Jeffords in 2001, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter proposed changing the Senate rules to diminish the impact of Senators switching party mid-session — as he did today.
Specter took to the floor to express his unhappiness with Jeffords’ move, and to suggest a rule — which was never put into place — “which would preclude a recurrence of this situation” in which a single Senator’s move shifted control of the body. (Specter’s move today didn’t have that effect.)
Here’s the relevant portion of Specter’s May 14, 2001 speech, which was unearthed by POLITICO’s Eamon Javers:
How should these issues be handled by the Senate for the future? I intend to propose a rule change which would preclude a future recurrence of a Senator’s change in parties, in mid-session, organizing with the opposition, to cause the upheaval which is now resulting.
I take second place to no one on independence voting. But, it is my view that the organizational vote belongs to the party which supported the election of a particular Senator. I believe that is the expectation. And certainly it has been a very abrupt party change, although they have occurred in the past with only minor ripples, none have caused the major dislocation which this one has.
When I first ran in 1980, Congressman Bud Shuster sponsored a fundraiser for me in Altoona where Congressman Jack Kemp was the principal speaker. When some questions were raised as to my political philosophy, Congressman Shuster said my most important vote would be the organizational vote. From that day to this, I have believed that the organizational vote belonged to the party which supported my election.
The Washington Post reported at the time that the proposal didn’t seem to impress either party much:
In one of the more surreal moments of the day, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) proposed a Senate rules change, which, if it had it been in effect when Jeffords defected, would have kept the chamber from falling into Democratic clutches.
Democrats, who soon will have the power to block all such creative political responses from the opposition party, responded with disbelief and scorn.
hattip Ms Dawg