Politics

Arlen Specter challenges Rick Santorum’s account of conversation about endorsement

Former Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter said his former Senate colleague Rick Santorum was wrong when Santorum recounted a conversation they had about judicial nominees during last night’s Republican presidential debate.

At the CNN debate in Arizona, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney attacked Santorum for endorsing the then-incumbent Senator Specter, who supports abortion rights, over the more conservative Pat Toomey in the 2004 Republican Senate primary. Specter would win that race, but in 2009 would become a Democrat and vote for President Obama’s health care overhaul, which all the Republican presidential candidates oppose. He lost his 2010 race.

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Santorum responded that he supported Specter because Specter was going to become the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, at a time when the most important issue before the Senate would be the confirmation of two or three of President Bush’s Supreme Court nominees.

“Arlen Specter as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, we had a conversation,” Santorum said. “He asked me to support him. I said will you support the president’s nominees? We had a 51/49 majority in the Senate. He said I’ll support the president’s nominees as chairman.” Santorum said every nominee Specter supported had passed “because it gave Democrats cover to vote for it and it gave Republican moderates cover to vote for it.”

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But speaking on The Michael Smerconish Program today, Specter said he made no such commitment. “He is not correct,” Specter said. “I made no commitment to him about supporting judges. That would have been the wrong thing to do. As chairman of the committee I supported [Justices John] Roberts and [Samuel] Alito because I thought they were qualified for the job. But I made no deal.”

Specter said he had no conversation with Santorum in which he made a commitment about supporting judges who had not yet been nominated. “I wouldn’t do that,” Specter said.

Specter said the two Pennsylvania senators had supported one another for years, and Santorum’s support for Specter in 2004 was helpful “but hardly determinative.” Specter said he loaned Santorum his campaign apparatus and staff during Santorum’s 1994 run, and Santorum supported Specter after that.

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Specter said the issue of the Judiciary Committee chairmanship came up after the 2004 election was over. “Senator Santorum and I did not have any conversations about that any more than I would have had individual conversations with anybody,” Specter said.

Shira Schoenberg can be reached at sschoenberg@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shiraschoenberg.
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