- The Washington Times
Monday, July 19, 2010


It appears lame-duck Sen. Arlen Specter, sometime-Democrat from Pennsylvania, hasn’t had enough of the Obama administration’s job-for-politics merry-go-round. Not one to go gentle into that good night, Mr. Specter is angling to be a special envoy to Syria. At the same time, he is abandoning his own standards in order to support the Supreme Court nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan, all while giving the cold shoulder to Sept. 11 victim families even though those victims are trying to help his own legislation.

Mr. Specter’s sellout adds new skulduggery to the increasingly troubled ethics of the Kagan nomination. It is a nomination that ought to be foundering because of Ms. Kagan’s manipulation of medical information in order to keep partial-birth abortions legal and because she deliberately flouted the law to keep military recruiters away from Harvard Law School.

Even for a politician known for shape-shifting, Mr. Specter’s latest metamorphosis is twisted. The senator famously opposed the nomination of Ms. Kagan to her current job of solicitor general, saying she didn’t sufficiently answer Senate questions. Now that she wants a promotion, the senator again seemed utterly underwhelmed by her performance during confirmation hearings. In a column for USA Today July 15 about whether or not he would support her, he devoted the first seven paragraphs to complaints about her “stonewalling.” Then, almost as an afterthought, he praised Ms. Kagan for favoring cameras in the Supreme Court chambers and for citing the late Justice Thurgood Marshall as her role model - hardly matters of great substance. Yet, on the basis of those two additions to the record, he wrote that “Kagan did just enough to win my vote.”

Those are laughably flimsy reasons for giving a promotion to somebody he didn’t think fit for her current job. The very same day, though, ABC’s Jake Tapper reported that Mr. Specter opened preliminary discussions with the Obama administration about a possible job after his Senate term ends. Three days earlier, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reported Mr. Specter had been in Syria talking about a possible role as a peace mediator between Syria and Israel. Both ABC and JTA noted that Mr. Specter is known (in JTA’s words) “to be looking for a more majestic career ender.”

This is the same man for whom the White House went to bat by offering a top political appointment to his Democratic primary rival, Rep. Joe Sestak, if Mr. Sestak would only forgo the race. To say that job offer raised a stink would be an understatement. Perhaps Mr. Specter should be more wary of mixing politics with Obama job discussions.

Now comes another oddity. Mr. Specter is author of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. The bill would effectively overturn a court ruling that barred Sept. 11 victims’ families from suing Saudi Arabia for providing material support to the terrorists. However, when Mr. Specter held a hearing on the legislation the day before announcing his support for Ms. Kagan, he didn’t publicly acknowledge a key letter in support of the bill from famed Sept. 11 victims’ advocate Debra Burlingame. Mr. Specter might be embarrassed that Ms. Burlingame’s letter spent a paragraph criticizing Ms. Kagan for having submitted the key brief that helped convince the court to disallow the lawsuits.

Mr. Specter already did not approve of Ms. Kagan to be solicitor general. As solicitor general, Ms. Kagan sided against victims’ families in a way Mr. Specter thought was so wrongheaded that he introduced a bill to overrule it - and he now cites no other new argument in her favor except for her almost irrelevant support for cameras in the high-court chambers. Despite all of this, he is supporting Ms. Kagan for the Supreme Court, while giving short shrift to the Sept. 11 families who Ms. Kagan opposed but whom he purportedly supports.

If Mr. Specter thinks his road to Damascus will be helped by shilling for Ms. Kagan at the expense of Sept. 11 victims, he should think about what happened the last time the Obama administration dangled a job offer for his benefit: He lost his current job - and his way.

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