Published April 28, 2009
Vice President Biden lobbied Sen. Arlen Specter to switch to the Democratic Party for six years and has talked to the party-switcher no fewer than 15 times since he voted for President Obama's stimulus bill, senior officials close to Biden told FOX News.
"This has been a long time coming," said the senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "He's been having this conversation with Specter for half a dozen years. They're close. You'd be hard-pressed to find a senator he's co-sponsored more bills with."
The president, vice president and Specter were to address reporters on the veteran Republican's party switch at the White House on Wednesday before Obama makes a trip to Missouri.
The vice president and senator are also frequent Amtrak friends, sharing rides from D.C. to Biden's home in Wilmington, Del., and Specter's in Philadelphia. And they've served for years on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where they sometimes teamed up on judicial nominees and crime policy.
"I have been working on [Specter's party switch] in earnest for the past four years and double time for the past 100 days [as vice president]," Biden told a Democratic fundraiser in Houston on Tuesday.
Famously, though, the two squared off angrily over sexual harassment allegations leveled by Anita Hill against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas with Biden siding, generally, with Hill, and Specter adopting the role of prosecutor trying to punch holes in her testimony.
Biden speaks to Specter regularly, the last conversation being on Thursday or Friday of last week, according to Biden aides. That conversation was not about switching parties, they insist, but plenty of other talks have been about Specter moving from the Republicans to the Democrats.
"In the 10 weeks since the stimulus passed, Biden spoke with or met Specter 14 or 15 times," the official said. "Not always about switching parties, but about a lot of stuff."
The official said Biden views the stimulus vote as "a clarifying event" for Specter, one where he decided to back Obama's economic approach and risk retribution from his party. When he faced the prospect of a well-funded conservative challenger, Republican Patrick Toomey, Specter decided toward Obama and the Democratic tilt of Pennsylvania.
More than 200,000 Pennsylvanians switched from the GOP to the Democratic party in 2008 and Obama became the first Democrat to carry the state with more than 51 percent of the vote since Lyndon Johnson.
Specter called Biden's vice presidential office at 8:45 a.m. Tuesday to convey the news, but Biden was in Austin, Texas. The two connected about 11 a.m.
The official said Biden will follow Obama's lead and, if asked, campaign and raise money for Specter in the primary and general election.
Another senior White House official said Obama was surprised to learn of Specter's decision.
The official said Specter's switch was not the product of a long negotiation with the White House and was not part of a quid pro quo in which Obama officials brokered a deal of any sort.
Even so, advisers swiftly pledged to swing the weight of the White House behind Specter's re-election bid, promising to work on his behalf in a Democratic primary if Specter asks.
"If the president is asked to raise money for Sen. Specter, we're happy to do it," press secretary Robert Gibbs said. "If the president is asked to campaign for Sen. Specter, we'll be happy to do it. As the president told Sen. Specter on the phone, he has our full support."
He added: "I think the president is quite pleased. Understatement of the day."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.