Tea Party Defeats Last Jewish Republican in Congress

Virginia 7th District
28,898 44.45% Rep. Eric I. Cantor
36,110 55.55% Prof. David A. Brat
65,008 Total


Cantor calls Anti-Semitism the “darker side” of the Republican caucus, April 2012.


Cantor calls Jewish tendency to vote Republican the bane of his existence and reveals the Republican version of tikkun olam (CBS 60 Minutes, January 2001).

When Eric Cantor (VA) was elected to Congress in 2000, he and Benjamin Gilman (NY) were the only two Jewish Congressmen caucusing as Republicans in the House of Representatives. Gilman retired in 2003 after his district was dispersed, leaving Cantor as the only Jewish Republican in the House.

At the time, two Jewish Republicans served in the Senate: Norm Coleman (MN) and Arlen Specter (PA). However, Coleman was unseated in a close election by Jewish comedian Al Franken (MN) in 2008, and Specter switched parties in 2009 and then was defeated in the 2010 Democratic primary by Admiral Joe Sestak.

Cantor has risen to great prominence. He was elected House Majority Leader in 2011, and was widely seen as the likely successor to John Boehner as Speaker of the House.

According to the Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voting Index, Cantor’s district is very safe, with a 10% Republican advantage compared to national averages:

2012 Election Results

  • President: Romney (R) 57%, Obama (D) 42%
  • Senator: Allen (R) 53%, Kaine (D) 47%
  • Represenative: Cantor (R) 58%, Powel (D) 41%

Accordingly, as the House’s second-ranked Republican, Cantor would have had no problem winning the general election yet again this year. His only danger was being defeated in the Republican primary. Even that seemed extremely unlikely: Cantor is ranked in the most conservative fifth of Congress by the DW-Nominate Scores based on his voting record, so he seemed like a good fit for his district.

Cantor spent $5,700,000 in the primary against his opponent David Brat, a Tea Party activist and obscure economics professor at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, with a mere $231,000 at his campaign’s disposal. In the final public polls before the election, Cantor led by 13%. In fact, Cantor’s internal polling projected he would win in a 34% landslide. Accordingly, he spent election day raising money for other Republicans rather than campaigning for himself.

Nevertheless, with the light turnout for the primary, Cantor was perhaps not sufficiently extreme: He was upset by Brat, 55.55% to 45.45%.

More after the jump.
The incumbent Cantor only kept control of four counties in the district: Three in the North are in the larger Washington, D.C. metropolitan area: Culpeper Country (51%), Orange County (61%) and Spotsylvania (54%), and the other is the state capital of Richmond (54%).

Brat succeeded with a grassroots campaign focused narrowly on the issue of immigration, characterizing Cantor as a supporter of an Obama plan to give amnesty to illegal immigrants. Wall Street Journal blogger Reid J. Epstein wrote that “Brat appeared more interested in campaigning to make a point than in winning”:

The Washington Post reported last month that he no-showed meetings with key conservative activists in the capital. His excuse: He had final exams to grade.

Mr. Brat will face Democrat Jack Trammell, who is a professor and the director of disability support services at Randolph-Macon College, the same school where Mr. Brat teaches.

Mr. Cantor can’t run as a third-party candidate. Virginia law forbids candidates who lose primary elections from appearing on the general election ballot. It is not immediately clear if he will mount a write-in campaign , as did Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) after losing a 2010 GOP Senate primary.

There are clues to Mr. Brat’s ideology in his academic CV. His current book project is titled “Ethics as Leading Economic Indicator? What went Wrong? Notes on the Judeo-Christian Tradition and Human Reason.”

His other published works include the titles “God and Advanced Mammon – Can Theological Types Handle Usury and Capitalism?” and “An Analysis of the Moral Foundations in Ayn Rand.”

In the wake of Cantor’s defeat, he has resigned as House Majority Leader, leaving great uncertainty about who will be the next Speaker of the House.

The Republican Jewish Coalition’s executive director, Matt Brooks, said this was “one of those incredible, evil twists of fate that just changed the potential course of history. There are other leaders who will emerge, but Eric was unique and it will take time and there’s nobody quite like Eric in the House to immediately fill those shoes. I was certainly hoping that Eric was going to be our first Jewish speaker.

Eric’s efforts have been invaluable in passing important legislation on matters of concern to his constituents and the nation. He rose quickly to a top position in the House, having earned the trust and respect of his colleagues.

Eric has been an important pro-Israel voice in the House and a leader on security issues, including Iran sanctions. We deeply appreciate his efforts to keep our country secure and to support our allies around the world.

On the other side of the partisan aisle, according to Ellana Cahn of the National Jewish Democratic Council:

The National Jewish Democratic Council notes that the defeat of Congressman Eric Cantor at the hands of a Tea Party challenger has left the Republican Party with no Jewish voice in Congress.  Cong. Cantor was bested by a challenger who campaigned against sensible immigration policies, the kind of policies that enabled Mr. Cantor’s family to become United States citizens.  The American Jewish community has long understood a hospitable approach to immigration to be one of its strongest values.

Sen. Arlen Specter’s funeral a tribute to his life of service


Arlen Specter and his wife, former City Councilwoman Joan Specter, enjoyed the Barnes Foundation opening gala this past May a few months before Specter learned his cancer had returned for the third and final bout. Photo: Bonnie Squires


Barack Obama and Joe Biden attend a press conference welcoming Arlen Specter to the Democratic Party at the White House April 29, 2009. Photo: Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images.


Sen. Arlen Specter and Gov. Ed Rendell during Specter campaign rally in Philadelphia, May 15, 2010. Photo: AP.


Sen. Arlen Specter was carried in a flag-bedecked limousine from Temple Har Zion to his eternal resting place at his family’s plot in Shalom Memorial Park. Photo: Daniel Loeb.

— by Bonnie Squires

Har Zion Temple was the site of the funeral for Senator Arlen Specter, and the thousands of people who poured into the main sanctuary, which had to be opened up to include the ballroom behind it, represented a cross-section of America.

Judges and lawyers and U.S.  Attorneys and academics and heads of charities and former Specter staffers by the score populated the seats at Specter’s funeral.  Candidates and former candidates from both sides of the aisle came to pay tribute to a mover and shaker who according to every speaker, did the right thing, the fair thing, even when voting for President Obama’s stimulus package would cost him his seat in the Senate.

Specter’s influence crossed political boundaries, racial differences, and economic backgrounds, as evidenced by the huge diversity of those in attendance to pay their respects to Joan Specter and her family.

Federal officials, past and present, like Senator Bob Casey, former Senators Ted Kauffman and Harris Wofford, and former Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies; state officers, including Governor Tom Corbett; federal and state judges; leaders of academia; and hundreds and hundreds of other notables, like Gwen Goodman, former executive director of the National Museum of American Jewish History, and Lee Ducat, founder of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.  Ducat nodded as each speaker mentioned Specter’s passionate defense of funding for cancer research and stem cell research, even when various Presidents decided to cut funidng of the National Institutes of Health.

Chief among the notables, however, was Vice President Joe Biden, who teared up as he spoke about Arlen Specter, his dear friend, who always was there for him, especially in times of personal crisis.

Biden and Specter seved in the U.S. Senate, and Biden said in his remarks that he knew he had spent more time with Specter than anyone else in the sanctuary, sitting with him in the Senate and especially in the Judiciary Committee meetings and hearings.

Biden also let people know that he had foregone campaign stops in two critical swing states, Colorado and Nevada, to pay tribute to his dear friend at Har Zion Temple.

President Obama that very morning had ordered all American flags to be flown at half-staff on all government properties, military bases, embassies, etc., in the nation and around the world, to salute Senator Arlen Specter on the day of his funeral.

But the people asked to speak by Joan Specter were close personal friends, like Biden.  Like Ed Rendell.  Like Flora Becker, widow of Judge Ed Becker.  Like Judge Jan DuBois.  Like Steve Harmelin, Esq.  Like Shanin Specter’s long-time law partner, Tom Kline.  Like Shanin Specter, the Senator’s son, and two of Arlen’s four grand-daughters.

Perhaps most remarkable, in all of their praise of Specter’s fairness and acumen, was the telling of how, less than two weeks before his demise, Specter insisted on teaching his class on the Constitution at Penn Law School.   I guess that was why Penn President Amy Gutmann was also in attendance.

Probably half the people in the throng owed their careers to Arlen Specter, either through having been hired by him when he was either District Attorney, or having been appointed by him when he chaired the Judiciary committee.

Although each of the speakers, including life-long friends Flora Becker, Judge Jan DuBois, attorney Steve Harmelin, Governor Ed Rendell, Specter’s son Shanin, and Vice President Biden shared wonderful anecdotes and memories of Specter, going back to Penn undergraduate and Yale Law School days, it was two of Specter’s granddaughters who made the greatest impact.  Sylvie Specter, by the way, is a friend and classmate at Penn of Biden’s own granddaughter.

Sylvie and Perri Specter told us that their grandfather had spent two weeks before his passing, working on yet another book – one that was a memoir with photographs from his amazing collection.  They announced that the family plans to complete the book and have it published, joining the array of Senator Specter’s other remarkable books.

Rabbi Kieffer, Rabbi Knopf and Cantor Vogel of Har Zion contributed to the testimonials, making this a remarkable send-off for a remarkable man.

Memories of Senator Arlen Specter (1930-2012)

— President Barack Obama

Arlen Specter was always a fighter.  From his days stamping out corruption as a prosecutor in Philadelphia to his three decades of service in the Senate, Arlen was fiercely independent – never putting party or ideology ahead of the people he was chosen to serve.  He brought that same toughness and determination to his personal struggles, using his own story to inspire others.  When he announced that his cancer had returned in 2005, Arlen said, “I have beaten a brain tumor, bypass heart surgery and many tough political opponents and I’m going to beat this, too.”  Arlen fought that battle for seven more years with the same resolve he used to fight for stem-cell research funding, veterans health, and countless other issues that will continue to change lives for years to come.  Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to Joan and the rest of the Specter family.

— Marc R. Stanley and David A. Harris

We extend our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of former Senator Arlen Specter. Senator Specter sat in the Republican Party for most of his career, and he was a consummate public servant whom we respected greatly as he advocated for Pennsylvanians — and a crucial voice of moderation. When he joined the Democratic Party later in his career, we were proud to welcome him as a Jewish Democrat — and his votes were crucial to helping President Obama during the first year of his presidency. Senator Specter has left behind a proud legacy of public service that will hopefully guide future generations of public servants, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice had the honor to interview Senator Specter in our August 2009 edition.

More after the jump.
— Vice-President Joe Biden

Jill and I are deeply saddened. Arlen Specter was a great Senator who lived his life the way he died, with dignity and courage. He was my friend and I admired him a great deal.

For over three decades, I watched his political courage accomplish great feats and was awed by his physical courage to never give up.  Arlen never walked away from his principles and was at his best when they were challenged.

Jill and I are thinking of Joan at the moment – she was an incredible partner through his life journey. Our hearts go out to Shanin and Stephen and all who were deeply touched by his life.  

The Specter of Romney’s Flip-flops

Former Senator Arlen Specter knows something about being flexible in order to get elected. He was a Democrat until 1965, when he registered as a Republican in order to be elected District Attorney of Philadelphia. Then in 2009, facing a difficult Republican primary in his battle to be reelected to the Senate, he switched back to the Democratic party. Accordingly, The Hill‘s Alexander Bolton asked former Senator Specter if he would support Mitt Romney in the general election. Specter replied

I’m going to wait to see which Romney it is.

Romney’s campaign seems based on the premise that voters have no more memory than an Etch-A-Sketch. You can pander to whatever group you happen to be appealing to and not suffer any consequences later on.

Lately, Romney has said the Obama campaign is “on a mission to drive up the price of gasoline and all energy so that they can finally get their solar and their wind to be more price-competitive.” According to FactCheck.org this is no quite true of President Obama. However, according to Alec MacGillis, Romney is quite familiar with this concept since this was his plan when he was Governor of Massachusetts in 2006:

Romney went so far as to make high gas prices out to be a welcome reality for the foreseeable future, one that people needed to learn to live with. When lieutenant governor Kerry Healey, a fellow Republican, called for suspending the state’s 23.5 cent gas tax during a price spike in May 2006, Romney rejected the idea, saying it would only further drive up gasoline consumption. “I don’t think that now is the time, and I’m not sure there will be the right time, for us to encourage the use of more gasoline,” Romney said, according to the Quincy Patriot Ledger’s report at the time. “I’m very much in favor of people recognizing that these high gasoline prices are probably here to stay.”

A Senate at risk


111th Senate

Part 5 of American Vision by Bruce Ticker

“Enzi has already gotten detailed responses to the questions he raised. We know exactly how the 9/11 health clinics have spent their money, and so does Enzi.”
– Manhattan U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler

Whew! The American people were spared a U.S. Senate that might take command of its legislative agenda.

We do not want to jeopardize the Democratic Senate seats in Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and other conservative states.

More after the jump.
Under the headline Senate Democrats’ minimalist agenda, The Washington Post reported that the Democratic majority has intentionally restrained itself to save seats in states like these.

The May 21, 2011, Post account states: “Democrats have decided to try to shield those lawmakers from the usual weeks-long debates and instead await for compromises to be reached behind closed doors. Reid’s approach is a bet that doing nothing looks better for them, so long as their arguments resonate with voters in 2012.”

Welcome to governance in the Senate half of the 112th Congress. Any wonder we have been stuck with an immovable Senate? Doing their jobs might cause some Democrats to lose their jobs in the November 2012 election. The Democratic leadership worried that they might lose their 51-47 majority if they overplayed their hand; two senators then were independents who caucus with the Democrats.

What, then, is the point of having a Senate?

Senate gridlock is rooted in the Senate’s composition that requires equal representation for all states, while leaving the House of Representatives with proportionate representation. Senate Democrats  represent all five states that opposed proportionate representation during the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Rhode Island, which did not participate in the convention, is also represented by Democrats in the Senate.

Most low-population states are conservative or conservative-leaning. They are represented by Republicans in the Senate or alternate between the two parties. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota was defeated for re-election in 2004. If he represented New Jersey or New York, he almost certainly would be serving in the Senate today.

Daschle’s fellow Democrats do not want others like him defeated, so they adjusted their agenda to protect their Senate seats in swing states. Three of those states, where two incumbents were retiring and a third was up for re-election, are home to 3.5 million people – Nebraska, 1.7 million; Montana, 975,00; and North Dakota, 646,000.

So, 1 percent of the nation’s citizenry – out of 308 million Americans – can propel the Senate leadership to ignore or minimize the needs and concerns of tens of millions of Americans. Democrats in the 112th Senate represented 190 million Americans after the 2010 election and 204 million in the 2008 election before Scott Brown, a Republican, was elected on Jan. 19, 2010, to fill a Massachusetts Senate seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Under these overall population estimates, each senator is counted as representing half their state’s population. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter’s switch to the Democratic Party is not counted here because he was elected as a Republican.

The four Democratic senators from New York and California collectively represent one-sixth of America’s population, 36.9 million in California and 19.5 million in New York.

That leaves 56.4 million Americans, and 135 million from other moderate or liberal states, in the lurch.

If the Senate represented the populace on a more proportionate basis, then far more attention would likely be paid to issues raised by the senators from high-population states such as New York and California.


Our present form of government was launched in a building at Wall and Nassau streets in lower Manhattan that was demolished two decades later. George Washington was inaugurated on the balcony on April 30, 1789. Eight blocks northeast, 212 years and four months later, two hijacked airplanes slammed into the World Trade Center towers.

It was this very form of government that threatened funding of two programs for New York City resulting from the 9-11 tragedy. One issue prompted bickering between a Manhattan congresswoman and a senator who represents fewer people than the number who live in her district. Manhattan alone comprises triple the population of the state that sent Mike Enzi to the Senate. For those who are confused by New York’s geographic composition, Manhattan is one of five boroughs that comprise NYC, population 8 million plus.

Manhattan’s population is 1,600,000 and Rep. Carolyn Maloney represents 700,000 people. The population of Enzi’s state, Wyoming, is 544,000.

In December 2010, Enzi opposed the Zadroga bill to compensate 9/11 workers sickened during the clean-up of the World Trade Center site. He was even accused of quarterbacking a campaign against the bill with a document that Carolyn Maloney called “a pack of lies.”

The New York Daily News attributed to unidentified sources the claim that Enzi, ranking Republican on the Senate Health Committee, was behind the opposition to the Zadroga bill, which would spend $7.4 billion over 10 years to provide health care and pay victims.

The revenue would be raised from closing tax revenues on foreign corporations. Because Republicans were against employing this source for revenues, New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, suggested other funding alternatives.

The News reported that the Republican document ignores their offers and labels the foreign tax provision a job-killer, and blatantly fabricates the claim that 95 percent of the workers were provided for in a recent $625 million legal settlement.

Only 10,000 people who sued, not the 30,000 who received some form of treatment, are covered by the settlement, the newspaper article clarified.

Calling these claims “a pack of lies,” Maloney said, “If these were legitimate concerns, why are Senate Republican leaders only raising them now, at the last minute, instead of years ago?”

Enzi would not respond to these accusations, but a week later he penned an op-ed piece in the News where he claimed that health-care providers that received federal grants for 9/11 health programs “have failed to tell Congress where that money has gone.”

In a follow-up letter to the News, Maloney and Jerrold Nadler (Ground Zero is located in his congressional district) wrote that “Enzi has already gotten detailed responses to the questions he raised. We know exactly how the 9/11 health clinics have spent their money, and so does Enzi.”


Obama signs Zadroga Act

In a Dec. 3 editorial, the Daily News employed phrases such as “distort the truth” and “torture decency” to describe Republican tactics. “They should stand at the graves of all those whose lungs were fatally destroyed, starting with NYPD Detective James Zadroga, who labored 450 hours at Ground Zero, and repeat the libel.” The bill was named after Detective Zadroga.

Next excerpt – Two senators, a high road and a low road

Bruce Springsteen Exhibit at the National Constitution Center


David Eisner, President and CEO of the National Constitution Center, admires the 1975 simultaneous Springsteen covers of TIME and NEWSWEEK magazines, part of the new exhibit, “From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen.”

— by Bonnie Squires

The National Constitution Center is the only venue to host the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s must-see exhibition, From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen, outside of Cleveland, where the exhibit has been housed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum.  The first major exhibition about the American songwriter will run at the Center from February 17 to September 3, 2012.

The opening reception attracted 1100 friends and supporters of the Center, including the Honorable Joan Specter, who serves as Director of Major Grants for the Center, and her husband, Senator Arlen Specter.  Mayor Bob Johnson, of Asbury Park, New Jersey, was also in attendance and greeted the guests from the bandstand.

The B Street Band entertained party-goers with rousing Springsteen renditions, and the food was typical boardwalk-seashore variety, including hot dogs, pop corn, cotton candy, and hamburgers.

More after the jump.


The Honorable Joan Specter, Director of Major Gifts at the Center, and her husband Senator Arlen Specter, admire some of the extraordinary photos of Springsteen included in the exhibit.

“It is fitting that the Center – the only museum dedicated to America’s constitutional freedoms – is the first and only venue in the nation to host this exhibition from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum,” said National Constitution Center President and CEO David Eisner.  “We are certain that our visitors, from the most devoted Springsteen fans to those experiencing his music for the first time, will be inspired by his commitment to illuminating the struggles and triumphs of `We the People.'”

“I worked very closely with Bruce and his organization to put this exhibit together,” said Jim Henke, vice president of exhibitions and chief curator at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.  “It’s a comprehensive look at Bruce’s entire career and contains numerous items that have never been seen by the public.  The exhibit was a huge hit when it was at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I am very happy that even more people will be able to see it now that it’s at the National Constitution Center.”

From Asbury Park to the Promised Land takes a comprehensive look at Springsteen’s career and catalog, from such early bands as Child, the Castiles and Steel Mill through his work with the E Street Band and as a solo artist.  Throughout the 5,000-square-foot exhibition, visitors will have the rare opportunity to view more than 150 items, including:


Robin and David Alpher were among the 1100 people enjoying the opening beach party for the Springsteen exhibit, on loan from the Cleveland Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum.

  • Family photos of Springsteen’s childhood in Asbury Park, N.J.
  • Scrapbooks containing newspaper clippings, photos and handbills from Springsteen’s early music endeavors
  • Handwritten lyrics from all phases of Springsteen’s career
  • Saxophone used by the late Clarence Clemons to play the solo in “Jungleland” from Born to Run
  • Springsteen’s 1960 Chevrolet Corvette
  • Springsteen’s Fender Esquire from the cover of Born to Run
  • The outfit Springsteen wore on the cover of Born in the U.S.A.
  • Springsteen’s 1993 Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Streets of Philadelphia”

The exhibition also features several listening stations where visitors can hear never-before-released songs by the Castiles; Springsteen’s successful 1972 audition for Columbia Records; and interviews with Springsteen on topics such as his songwriting process, his first recording session, and some of his best known albums.  Video footage throughout the exhibition includes archival performances, an edited version of Wings for Wheels: The Making of Born to Run, and clips of Springsteen’s appearance on MTV Unplugged in 1992.

To complement the exhibition, the Center’s public programming staff is developing a variety of interactive programs and activities for students, teachers and families about the importance of free expression.  The Center also is planning a series of special events celebrating the music of Bruce Springsteen.


Celia Feinstein (third from the right), director of Temple University’s Institute on Disabilities, brought her colleagues along who love Springsteen’s music.

Admission to From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen is $24.50 for adults, $23 for seniors and students and $12 for children ages 4-12.  Group rates also are available.  Admission to the Center’s main exhibition, The Story of We the People, including the award-winning theater production Freedom Rising, is included.  For ticket information, call 215.409.6700 or visit www.constitutioncenter.org.

CBS 3 and The CW Philly are the local media partners for the exhibition.  CBS 3 (KYW-TV) and The CW Philly 57 (WPSG-TV) are part of CBS Television Stations, a division of CBS Corporation.

Photo Credit: Bonnie Squires.


Bob and Sybie Brassler paid tribute to the rock and roll music icon.

Herschel and Betsy Richman enjoy the Asbury Park-like treats at the opening reception, while enjoying the sounds of Springsteen’s rock and roll hits.

Senator Specter’s Final Remarks in the United States Senate

Today, U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) delivered the final floor statement of his Senate career.

This is not a farewell address, but rather a closing argument to a jury of my colleagues and the American people outlining my views on how the Senate – and with it, the Federal Government — arrived at its current condition of partisan gridlock, and my suggestions of where we go from here on that pressing problem and key issues of national and international importance.

To make a final floor statement is a challenge.  The Washington Post noted the poor attendance at my colleagues’ farewell speeches earlier this month.  That is really not surprising since there is hardly anyone ever on the Senate floor.  The days of lively debate with many members on the floor are long gone.  Abuse of Senate rules has pretty much stripped senators of the right to offer amendments.  The modern filibuster requires only a threat and no talking.  So the Senate’s dominant activity for more than a decade has been the virtually continuous drone of the quorum call.


Joan and Senator Arlen Specter. (Photo: Bonnie Squires)

But that is not the way it was when I was privileged to enter the world’s greatest deliberative body 30 years ago.  Senators on both sides of the aisle engaged in collegial debate and found ways to find common ground on the nation’s pressing problems.  When I attended my first Republican moderates luncheon, I met Mark Hatfield, John Chaffee, Ted Stevens, Mac Mathias, Bob Stafford, Bob Packwood, Chuck Percy, Bill Cohen, Warren Rudman, Alan Simpson, Jack Danforth, John Warner, Nancy Kassenbaum, Slade Gorton, and others-a far cry from later years when the moderates could fit into a telephone booth.  On the other side of the aisle, I found many Democratic senators willing to move to the center to craft legislation: Scoop Jackson, Joe Biden, Dan Inouye, Lloyd Bentsen, Fritz Hollings, Pat Leahy, Dale Bumpers, David Boren, Russell Long, Pat Moynihan, George Mitchell, Sam Nunn, Gary Hart, Bill Bradley, and others.

More after the jump.
They were carrying on the Senate’s glorious tradition.  The Senate’s deliberate, cerebral procedures have served our country well.  The Senate stood tall in 1805 in acquitting Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase in impeachment proceedings to preserve the independence of the federal judiciary.  The Senate stood tall in 1868 to acquit President Andrew Johnson in impeachment proceedings that preserved the power of the Presidency.  Repeatedly, in our-223 year history the Senate has cooled the passions of the moment to preserve the institutions embodied in our Constitution which have made the United States the envy of the world.

It has been a great privilege to have had a voice for the last 30 years in the great decisions of our day: how we allocate our resources among economic development, national defense, education, environmental protection and NIH funding; the Senate’s role in foreign policy; the protection of civil rights; balancing crime control and defendants’ rights; and how we maintained the quality of the federal judiciary-not only the high profile 14 Supreme Court nominations that I have participated in but the 112 Pennsylvanians who have been confirmed during my tenure in the District Courts or Third Circuit.

On the national scene, top issues are the deficit and national debt.  The Deficit Commission has made a start.  When raising the debt limit comes up next year, that may present an occasion to pressure all parties to come to terms on future taxes and expenditures to  realistically deal with these issues.

Next, Congress should act to try to stop the Supreme Court from further eroding the Constitutional mandate of separation of power.  The Court has been eating Congress’s lunch by invalidating legislation with judicial activism after nominees commit under oath in confirmation proceedings to respect Congressional fact finding and precedents.  The recent decision in Citizens United is illustrative.  Ignoring a massive Congressional record and reversing recent decisions, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito repudiated their confirmation testimony and provided the key votes to permit corporations and unions to secretly pay for political advertising – effectively undermining the basic democratic principle of the power of one person/one vote.   Roberts promised to just call balls and strikes and then moved the bases.          

Congress’s response is necessarily limited in recognition of the importance of judicial independence as the foundation of the rule of law.   Congress could at least require televising the court proceedings to provide some transparency to inform the public about how the Court is the final word on the cutting issues of the day in our society.  Brandeis was right that sunlight is the best disinfectant.  The Court does follow the election returns and does judicially notice societal values as expressed by public opinion.  Polls show 85% of the American people favor televising the Court when told that a citizen can only attend an oral argument for three minutes in a chamber holding only 300 people.  Great Britain, Canada, and state supreme courts permit television.

Congress has the authority to legislate on this subject just as Congress decides other administrative matters like what cases the Court must hear, time limits for decisions, the number of justices, the day the Court convenes and the number for a quorum.  While television cannot provide a definitive answer, it could be significant and may be the most that can be done consistent with life tenure and judicial independence.

Additionally,  I urge Congress to substantially increase funding for NIH.  When NIH funding was increased from $12 to $30 billion annually, and $10 billion added in the stimulus package, significant advances were made on medical research.   It is scandalous that a nation with our wealth and research capabilities has not done more. Forty years ago, the President of the United States declared war on cancer.  Had that war been pursued with the diligence of other wars, most forms of cancer might have been conquered.

I also urge my colleagues to increase their activity on foreign travel.   Regrettably, we have earned the title of “The Ugly Americans” by not treating other nations with proper respect and dignity.   My experience in Codels to China, Russia, India, NATO, Jerusalem, Damascus, Bagdad, Kabul and elsewhere provided the opportunity for eyeball to eyeball discussions with world leaders about our values, our expectations and our willingness to engage in constructive dialogue.  Since 1984, I have visited Syria almost every year.  My extensive conversations with Hafiz al-Assad and Bashar al-Assad have convinced me that there is a realistic opportunity for a peace treaty between Israel and Syria if encouraged by vigorous U.S. diplomacy.  Similar meetings with Muammar Ghaddafi, Yasser Arafat, Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein and Hugo Chavez have persuaded me that candid, respectful dialogue with our toughest adversaries can do much to improve relations among nations.

And now let me shift gears – in my view, a principle reason for the historic stature of the United States Senate has been the ability of any Senator to offer virtually any amendment at virtually any time.  The Senate Chamber provides the forum for unlimited debate with the potential to acquaint the people of America and the world about innovative proposals on public policy and have a vote on the issue.

Regrettably, that has changed in recent years because of abuse of the Senate rules by both parties.  The Senate rules allow the Majority Leader, through his right of first recognition, to offer up a series of amendments to prevent any other senator from offering an amendment.  That had been done infrequently up until about a decade ago and lately has become a common practice by both parties.

By precluding other Senators from offering amendments, the Majority Leader protects his party colleagues from taking tough votes.  Never mind that we were sent here and paid to make tough votes.  The inevitable and understandable consequence of that practice has been the filibuster.  If a Senator can not offer an amendment, why vote to cut off debate and go to final passage?  Senators were willing to accept the will of the majority in rejecting their amendments, but unwilling to accept being railroaded to concluding a bill without an opportunity to modify it.  That practice led to an indignant, determined minority to filibuster and deny the 60 votes necessary to cut off debate.  Two years ago on the Senate floor, I called the practice “tyrannical”.

The decade from 1995-2005 saw the nominees of President Clinton and President Bush stymied by the refusal of the other party to have a hearing or floor vote on many judicial and executive nominees.  Then in 2005, serious consideration was given by the Republican Caucus to changing the long standing Senate filibuster rule by invoking the so called “nuclear” or “constitutional option”.  The plan called for Vice President Cheney to rule 51 votes were sufficient to impose cloture for confirmation of a judge or executive nominee.  His ruling, challenged by Democrats, would then be upheld by the traditional 51 votes to uphold the Chair’s ruling.

As I argued on the Senate floor at that time, if Democratic Senators had voted their conscience without regard to party loyalty, most filibusters would have failed.  Similarly, I argued that had Republican Senators voted their consciences without regard to party loyalty there would not have been 51 of the 55 Republican Senators to support the nuclear option.

The Majority Leader scheduled the critical vote for May 25, 2005.  The outcome of the vote was uncertain with key Republicans undeclared.  The showdown was averted the night before by a compromise by the so called “Gang of 14”.  Some nominees were approved, some rejected, and a new standard was established to eliminate filibusters unless there were “extraordinary circumstances” with each senator to decide whether that standard was met.  That standard has not been followed as those filibusters have continued in recent years.  Again, the fault rests with both parties.

There is a way out of this procedural gridlock by changing the rule on the power of the Majority Leader to exclude other Senators’ amendments.  I proposed such a rule change in the 110th and 111th Congresses.  I would retain the 60 vote requirement for cloture on legislation with the condition that Senators would have to have a talking filibuster-not merely the present notice of intent.   By allowing senators to offer amendments and a requirement for debate, not just notice, I think filibusters could be effectively managed as they had been in the past and still be retained where necessary to give adequate debate on controversial issues.

I would change the rule to cut off debate on judicial and executive branch nominees to 51 votes as I formally proposed in the 109th Congress.  Important positions are left open for months including judicial nominees with emergency backlogs.  Since Judge Bork and Justice Thomas did not provoke filibusters, I think the Senate can do without them on judges and executive office holders.  There is a sufficient safeguard of the public interest by requiring a simple majority of Senators on an up/down vote.  I would also change the rule requiring 30 hours of post-cloture debate and the rule allowing the secret “hold” which requires cloture to bring the matter to the floor.  Requiring a senator to disclose his “hold” to the light of day would greatly curtail this abuse.

While political gridlock has been facilitated by the Senate rules, partisanship has been increased by other factors.  Senators have gone into other states to campaign against incumbents of the other party.  Senators have even opposed their own party colleagues in primary challenges.  That conduct was beyond contemplation in the Senate I joined 30 years ago.  Collegiality can obviously not be maintained when negotiating with someone simultaneously out to defeat you, especially within your own party.

In some quarters, “compromising” has become a dirty word.  Some senators insist on ideological purity as a precondition.   Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine had it right when she said we need to distinguish between the compromise of principle and the principle of compromise.  The Senate itself was created through the so-called “Great Compromise,” in which the framers decreed that states would be represented equally in the Senate and proportionate to their populations in the House.  As Senate historian Richard Baker wrote, “Without that compromise, there would likely have been no Constitution, no Senate, and no United States as we know it today.”

Politics is no longer the art of the possible when senators are intransigent in their positions.  Polarization of the political parties has followed.  President Reagan’s “Big Tent” has frequently been abandoned by the Republican Party.  A single vote out of thousands cast by an incumbent can cost his seat.  Senator Bob Bennett was rejected by the far right in his Utah primary largely because of his vote for TARP.  It did not matter that Vice President Cheney had pleaded with the Republican caucus to support TARP or President Bush would become a modern Herbert Hoover.  It did not matter that 24 other Republican Senators out of 49 also voted for TARP.  Senator Bennett’s 93% conservative rating was insufficient.  Senator Lisa Murkowski lost her primary in Alaska.   Congressman Mike Castle was rejected in Delaware’s Republican primary in favor of a candidate who thought it necessary to defend herself as not being a witch.   Republican senators contributed to the primary defeats of Bennett, Murkowski and Castle.  Eating or defeating your own is a form of sophisticated cannibalism.  Similarly, on the other side of the aisle, Senator Lieberman could not win his Democratic primary.

The spectacular re-election of Senator Lisa Murkowski on a write-in vote in the Alaskan general election and the defeat of other Tea Party candidates in 2010 in general elections may show the way to counter right-wing extremists.  Arguably, Republicans left three seats on the table in 2010-beyond Delaware, also Nevada and arguably Colorado-because of unacceptable general election candidates.  By bouncing back and winning, Senator Murkowski demonstrated that a moderate/centrist can win by informing and arousing the general electorate.  Her victory proves that America still wants to be and can be governed by the center.

Repeatedly, senior Republican senators have recently abandoned long held positions out of fear of losing their seats over a single vote or because of party discipline.  With 59 votes for cloture on the Democratic side of the aisle, not a single Republican would provide the 60th vote to advance legislation on key issues such as identifying campaign contributors.

Notwithstanding the perils, it is my hope that more senators will return to greater independence in voting and crossing of party lines evident thirty years ago.  President Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage” shows the way.  Sometimes party does ask too much.  The model for an elected official’s independence in a representative democracy was articulated in 1774 by Edmund Burke of the British House of Commons, who said: “his [the elected representative’s] unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience…[including his vote] ought not to be sacrificed to you, to any man or any set of men living.”

Above all, we need civility.  Steve and Cokie Roberts, distinguished journalists, put it well in a recent column:  “Civility is more than good manners . . . Civility is a state of mind.  It reflects respect for your opponents and for the institutions you serve together. . . This polarization will make civility in the next Congress more difficult – and more necessary – than ever.”

A closing speech has an inevitable aspect of nostalgia.  An extraordinary experience has come to an end.  But my dominant feeling is pride in the great privilege it has been to be a part of this unique body with colleagues who are such outstanding public servants.  I have written and will write elsewhere about my tenure here, so I do not say “farewell” to my continuing involvement in public policy, which I will pursue in a different venue.  I leave with great optimism for the future of our country and the continuing vital role of the United States Senate in the governance of our democracy.

Specter Endorses Sestak

Arlen Specter and Joe Sestak debated at the Pennsylvania Progressive Summit before the Democratic primary.
Endorsement key to Jews and moderates in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Senators Arlen Specter and Bob Casey will be joining New York Senator Chuck Schumer in support of Rep. Joe Sestak who is running for Senate against Rep. Pat Toomey. The Senators will appear with Sestak at a reception in downtown Philadelphia Monday, October 11, 2010. Contact the Sestak campaign for more information.

Jewish Senators Schumer and Specter will tout Sestak’s strong support of Israel including a perfect voting record according to AIPAC during his two terms in Congress, and helping improve Israel’s defense systems during his career in the United States Navy. They will address the attack ads aired by the Republican Jewish Coalition. Sestak created and led the Navy’s anti-terrorism unit, yet these ads attempt to paint Sestak as supportive of Hamas and other terrorist organizations. The RJC criticizes Sestak for appearing before the Council on American Islamic Relations even though he called on members of CAIR to “condemn not just terrorism but also the specific acts, and specific individuals and groups by name associated with those acts, such as Hamas and Hezbollah.”

After joining the Democratic party to avoid a tough Republican primary against Pat Toomey, Senator Arlen Specter was defeated in a contentious primary against Joe Sestak. Now, in his first major appearance with Sestak since the primary, Specter will put old rivalries aside and speak out to endorse Joe Sestak to fill his seat in the United States Senate.