Senate Dems to Specter: Hello, rookie

And we thought that Al Franken would get the least amount of respect as a Senator.  After cutting a deal with Harry Reid to keep his seniority after a party switch, Arlen Specter got a rude shock last night when Reid’s caucus rejected that deal and refused to give Specter any consideration on committee assignments. In fact, not only did he lose out on chair assignments, he will take the most junior positions on the committees:

The Senate dealt a blow tonight to Sen. Arlen Specter’s hold on seniority in several key committees, a week after the Pennsylvanian’s party switch placed Democrats on the precipice of a 60-seat majority.

In a unanimous voice vote, the Senate approved a resolution that added Specter to the Democratic side of the dais on the five committees on which he serves, an expected move that gives Democrats larger margins on key panels such as Judiciary and Appropriations.

But Democrats placed Specter in one of the two most junior slots on each of the five committees for the remainder of this Congress, which goes through December 2010. Democrats have suggested that they will consider revisiting Specter’s seniority claim at the committee level only after the midterm elections next year.

This goes beyond the denial of the chair on a subcommittee Specter wanted.  He actually got demoted on his existing committee assignments, moving from the top or near top of the opposition to the bottom of the majority.  When Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court meets with the Judiciary Committee, Specter will be the last person to ask questions, instead of second — a dramatic comedown.

Democrats sent a more practical message with this vote.  Specter needed to retain his seniority in order to make the argument that electing him would keep Pennsylvania in a position of power in Congress.  The caucus has made it much easier for a Democratic primary challenger to beat Specter by taking that advantage away from him.  It’s practically a signal flare to Joe Sestak, approving of his run against Specter.

Contrast this to the treatment given Jim Jeffords when he jumped to the Democrats and temporarily gave Tom Daschle control of the Senate.  Jeffords kept his seniority and landed a committee chair (Environment and Public Works), and kept his seniority for committee assignments.  If Reid really did make a similar deal with Specter, then his caucus just sent him a message as well, a humiliation that will make Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins think twice before following Specter into rookie status.