Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennyslvania has had, shall we say, a rather rough transition into his new position in the Democratic party, and the leadership of his new party hasn't had it too easy either.
It has left reporters with the feeling they're caught up in some kind of soap opera...call it: As the Senate Turns.
First, Specter thinks he has a deal with Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, on seniority, but his new colleagues, seeing that Specter hasn't exactly looked kindly on some important Democratic priorities, like a union bill, the budget, and a couple of President Obama's nominees, put the brakes on.
Specter would not get seniority as if he were elected a Dem in 1980 as Reid had appeared to promise (this is when Specter was first elected to the Senate), possibly leap-frogging over about 54 Dems to grab plum assignments on key committees.
Reid would essentially rescind his own remarks to reporters last week when he announced the switch and make them applicable when the new Congress starts up in 2011.
That isn's exactly the way Specter saw it, especially considering that his seniority figures prominently in his sell to Pennyslvanians as he attempts to win re-election to a fifth term. Afterall, his switch was based on the calculation that he only stood a chance to get elected by Democrats in the face of a stiff Republican primary opponent who, according to polls, would have easily bested Specter.
Sen. Durbin, D-IL, # 2 Dem in the Senate, decided he would make a sacrifice. Early on, he told Reid, according to an accounting by both leaders, he would give up his own chairmanship of a subcommittee on the Judiciary Committee, a post formerly held by now-Vice President Biden.
Durbin insisted it was not to "smooth ruffled feathers," rather, he had told Reid of the offer the day the switch was announced. And Durbin got something, too - a re-establishment of the Human Rights and the Law Subcommittee which he chaired in the last Congress.
Meanwhile, Judiciary Cmte Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-VT, racing to a vote today, appeared angry when reporters querried him about the Durbin-Specter deal.
"Nothing is settled!" he barked to reporters, and Leahy doesn't usually bark.
"We need to work out something. Nothing's been worked out." When told Durbin had put out a press release announcing the deal, Leahy shot back, "Oh he's (Durbin) now chairman? This is great." He added that the committee has to work out funding for the new subcommittee, if it's to be created, and that he has to "think about it over the weekend and consult with Republicans."
In the end, it appeared as if Leahy was angry that Durbin staffers leaked the news to a Capitol Hill newspaper and put out a release before the Chairman could announce news about his own committee. Several aides to the committee say all will be well. Leahy and his top Republican, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, are expected to make the switch official sometime soon.
Turf is a prized possession in the Senate.
Stay tuned for the next development in As the Senate Turns...