I made a decision recently to support my colleague, Senator Arlen Specter—a pro-choice Republican—in the Pennsylvania Senate primary race. While the decision was controversial with some, I’m convinced it was the right one. Put simply, I supported Senator Specter because it will further the causes in which I believe and because it’s in the best interest of my state.
Politically, Senator Specter is a very strong general-election candidate with a high likelihood to win the seat, while his opponent, pro-life Congressman Pat Toomey, would have had a much tougher race. Many Republican political leaders—including President George W. Bush—agreed with my assessment that Congressman Toomey would be a much weaker general-election candidate for a variety of reasons (though he deserves praise for his strong showing in the primary).
As a Republican leader, I have a responsibility to support incumbent senators generally and my colleague from Pennsylvania specifically. Republicans have a narrow majority, only 51 Republican senators. Reelecting Specter improves our shot to keep that majority. And clearly a pro-life Republican majority that includes Senator Specter, who—while pro-choice-voted for the partial-birth abortion ban and fetal-homicide bills, is better than a pro-choice Democratic majority with pro-choice Senator Joe Hoeffel, Specter’s Democratic rival, who voted against both bills.
In addition, there are already eight open Senate seats this election (five Democrat, three Republican), presenting a tremendous opportunity to grow our majority. And this isn’t just an issue of party politics—there are grave consequences involved. If Republicans lose the majority and Senate Democrats are again in charge, they’ll quickly reverse the real progress we’ve made on life issues. Pro-choice Democrats will get the chairmanships of the committees and control of the Senate floor schedule and will refuse to cooperate on confirming President Bush’s judicial nominees (if the president is reelected). If President Bush is defeated and the Democrats gain control of the White House, they’ll use the combined power of the White House and Congress to aggressively advance a pro-abortion, pro–stem-cell research, pro–human-embryo cloning, and anti-marriage agenda.
As chairman of the Republican Conference, I’m always preaching to our members about teamwork. As we all know, sometimes you have to take one for the team even though you’d prefer not to. I can’t think of anyone in my four years of leadership who has been more willing than Arlen Specter to step up on crucial amendments and vote with us to move legislation forward, even though he disagrees with us on the substance. In other words, when it counts, I’ve been able to count on him—and not just for his vote but also in recruiting others if necessary.
Probably the issue of concern to most Catholics is the thought that Senator Specter will be in charge of moving President Bush’s judicial nominees out of the Judiciary Committee. I’m constantly reminded of his vote on Judge Robert Bork (though let’s not forget his questioning of Anita Hill during Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings).
The reality is Senator Specter has supported all six of President Bush’s filibustered judicial nominees this session, both in committee and on the floor. Furthermore, he has said that when he becomes chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he’ll live by the bill he introduced in Congress last year that requires all judicial nominees who have the approval of their home-state senators to be reported out of the Judiciary Committee promptly.
Senator Specter, who has voted for every Bush judicial nominee, has said repeatedly that he doesn’t apply a litmus test for judges. I know this for a fact because during the last three years, the senator and I have joined together to nominate 20 judges to the federal bench, including six Democrats. From the public information available about those nominees, all were conservative jurists and to my knowledge—with one exception—were also pro-life.
As a Republican leader, I’ll work this election year to retain our majority so that we can continue to make progress on the important moral and cultural issues of our day. But whether or not we retain the majority, I will always support legislation consistent with moral absolutes (like our obligation to protect all innocent human life). And as we all do, I must also make prudential judgments on difficult and complex issues that confront us in this less than black-and-white world.