Arlen Specter Defends Party Switch in Heated Interview

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," August 3, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST: We begin with my interview with former Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter. Now the longtime Pennsylvania senator and I discussed a whole host of issues during our lengthy discussion. And some of it, well, it got pretty interesting.

Now it's important to note that the senator contacted us to come on the show. And he wanted to do so in order to discuss his effort to get cameras inside the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now Senator Specter has championed the issue in an effort to promote more transparency in government. But we also made it clear to his staff that there were plenty of other things that we wanted to talk to him about. And they agreed.

The rest you need to see for yourself.


HANNITY: First, you want to put cameras in the courtroom which I think I might find myself in agreement with. You know, you're talking about the Supreme Court and every other court?

SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER, D-PENN.: No, I'm talking about the Supreme Court. Many state Supreme Courts are now televised as is the highest court in Great Britain and Canada.

I want the Supreme Court to be televised because they have such a tremendous impact on the lives of all citizens. If you're a newspaper reporter, you have an absolute right to be in the courtroom and to write your story.

And now since most of the information comes on television, seems to me a logical extension for people to understand.

HANNITY: Is there any danger that -- that people play up for the courts because they know they're on television and they act differently? Is that a concern?

SPECTER: Well, that is a concern. But the cameras are hidden. They do know they are being filmed. But I think that that mild disadvantage, potential disadvantage, is far outweighed by the value of having people understand what happens in a very important facet of the government.

HANNITY: Yes. Senator, I just have a hard time figuring you out. You're somebody that I've interviewed a lot over the years. I've disagreed with you quite a bit. But I can't figure out how you could go from supporting George W. Bush in some years, 89, 90 percent of the time, and then supporting Barack Obama 96 percent of the time.

Considering their principles, their core values, their belief system is so diametrically opposed. How do -- how do you justify that?

SPECTER: Well, those statistics are really --

HANNITY: Accurate.

SPECTER:  -- misleading. Well, I'm not challenging their accuracy. But we have a lot of routine matters where almost everybody votes the same way. When President Bush was in office, I disagreed with him on many, many issues -- on warrantless wiretapping, on a woman's right to choose, on labor protection.

And I've disagreed with President Obama on issues. I have been an independent, and if you take a look at the specifics on my voting record, it's consistent.

HANNITY: Well, it's actually not. I mean if we're going to be fair, we're going to be honest about this. I can give you a few quick examples here. The --

SPECTER: Go ahead.

HANNITY: The comments you made, for example, about Elena Kagan when she was becoming solicitor general were very harsh. Now as a Democrat you're going to support Elena Kagan.

You were on -- you were on "Meet the Press." You talk about health care and -- David Gregory asked you, I want to turn now to the issue of health care. You would not support a public plan. Your answer, "That's what I said." Then in The New York Times a short time later, "Yes, Schumer has it right about supporting a public component."

Card check -- you flipped in three different positions on card check. And the question I guess that I'm going to ask you is, you know, doesn't that seem like that's for pure political expediency?

SPECTER: No. And let's be specific. When you're dealt with the public option, we were talking at that point about single payer. And I opposed President Clinton's single payer, had a gigantic chart that showed the bureaucracy that many people said was a significant factor in its defeat.

When you came down to what was in the Obama plan, it was a level-playing field. And the private sector was still very much involved.

When you talk about card check, from the very start, I opposed the idea of giving up the secret ballot. Consistently, all the way through. I had said early that there was room for arbitration, providing last chance arbitration would be explored.

And if you saw the proceedings, Sean, on Solicitor General Kagan from the Supreme Court of the United States, I was very direct and very much in disagreement with her refusal to answer questions.

And I said in the final analysis, I would be for her to retain the balance on the court and because she said that she felt former Justice Thurgood Marshal was a role model. And her willingness to see the court televised. So --

HANNITY: One month before you left the Republican Party, what you said voting against her as solicitor general, you know, you were very strong. You said somebody with her strongly held belief was not qualified to be solicitor general.

And now you're a Democrat. Now you're in the Democratic caucus -- if she's not --


HANNITY: Hang on. If she is not qualified to be solicitor general, how is she qualified to be a Supreme Court justice?

SPECTER: Now, wait a minute. I opposed Kagan for solicitor general because she wouldn't answer questions. Specifically, she wouldn't answer what position she would take on the issue of the holocaust victims wanting to take their case to the Supreme Court.

Specifically, on the issue of the survivors of the victims of 9/11, going to the Supreme Court. Now I thought a solicitor general ought to answer those questions. When she's up for Supreme Court of the United States, she is following suit with what everybody else is -- and that is refusing to answer questions.

Now that's the reason -- coming back to television that I want to see the court televised so that people understand what is happening in those proceedings. To try to see if we can't influence nominees to tell us a little bit something about their philosophy. But --

HANNITY: You know --

SPECTER: The situations were significantly different.

HANNITY: Look, Senator, I guess, you know, you can say whatever you want, I'm looking at your record. And the very strongest criticism Americans have right now is that politicians are out for themselves.

And it seems on the surface that you were out to get reelected. And if it meant compromising your positions, you were going to do so.

SPECTER: Now, on the big issues, I had been independent. Probably on the major issues like bourque (ph) and warrantless wiretapping, and the issue of unemployment compensation and the issue of health care, the work I did on federal expenditures for the National Institute of Health, on those issues I was with the Democrats -- perhaps more often than with the Republicans on the big issues.

HANNITY: If you look at the polls, you weren't even able to win your own state. So obviously, the people of Pennsylvania, you know, they see that there's political expediency at play.

Let me give you an example. When you left the Republican Party your statement was that the party has moved further and further to the right. You find yourself at odds with Republican philosophy.

Explain to me how somebody that was with Reagan and President Bush -- explain specifically where the party went too far to the right.

SPECTER: Well, the party went too far to the right when they were offering filibusters on every issue. But look here, the big tipping point came on the stimulus vote. And I knew that it was he politically disastrous to cast the vote for the stimulus.

But I concluded that the country would slide into a 1929 depression if we didn't have the stimulus vote. Now you may disagree with the stimulus vote. But the economists have said the absent that infusion of that federal money, we would have had another depression.

And once I had voted for the stimulus, there was no way there was a -- irreconcilable differences between me and the Republican Party.

I've got a long record. Elected five times, longest serving Pennsylvania senator.

And listen, Sean, I don't have anything to apologize for. Not to you or anyone.

HANNITY: I'm not asking you to apologize.

SPECTER: Well --

HANNITY: I'm not asking you --

SPECTER: You're -- you're --

HANNITY: I'm not asking you to apologize.

SPECTER: You're pretty strong here, young man. You're pretty strong.


SPECTER: We came on to talk about television --

HANNITY: I've been --

SPECTER: And you've given me a litany that would take most people a long time to prepare. But I know what I did.

HANNITY: Senator, I am giving you as much time to answer these questions as possible. Because I got to tell you something, it's not just Sean Hannity. And I've given you a fair amount of time to answer without interrupting you.

You know, you've served your country a long time. I -- and for that you should be commended for your service. I'm just concerned, and it's not just me, Senator, there are a lot of people that believe political expediency is one of the reasons that there's such an anti-Washington incumbent mood.

SPECTER: Well, let me give you a contrary view. I believe that the American people are fed up with the gridlock and the stagnation and with the extremism in both parties. And I think that people like independents. And I think I have been an independent.

HANNITY: All right.

SPECTER: And if you take a look at where the American electorate is shifting, it's shifting toward independence. So the people are not saying you've got to be with Reagan all the time or you've got to be with Obama all the time.

I think people prefer independent thinkers who will take up the issues one at a time and exercise their best judgment.

HANNITY: Senator, we appreciate your time. Thank you for being with us.

SPECTER: Well, that's nice to hear. Thank you.