UPDATED: Santorum says he endorsed Specter in exchange for Supreme Court help

By Alex Roarty
PoliticsPA Staff Writer
roarty@politicspa.com

Rick Santorum said Saturday that he endorsed then Republican Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey in the 2004 U.S. Senate primary because he received a guarantee from the incumbent that he would support President Bush’s Supreme Court nominees.

The statement could be politically tricky for Specter, who faces Joe Sestak in the Democratic Senate primary on May 18, and his opponent immediately jumped on the statement as more evidence that Specter puts electoral survival over principle.

Santorum, speaking at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, responded to a question from a conservative who asked why he supported Specter over Toomey in what was a bitterly fought contest that year.

“The reason I endorsed Arlen Specter is because we were going to have two Supreme Court nominees coming up,” said Santorum, according to The Washington Post. “I got a commitment from Arlen Specter that no matter who George W. Bush would nominate, he would support that nominee.”

Hours after the Post reported the story, the Sestak campaign issued a release slamming the incumbent Democrat.

“Rick Santorum’s stunning confirmation that Arlen Specter sold his influence as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee for a political endorsement should be extremely troubling to Pennsylvanians,” the Democratic challenger said. “There are few people in this nation who have a greater impact on the lives of the American people than the men and women who serve lifetime appointments on the Supreme Court.

“For Arlen Specter to take his marching orders from Rick Santorum and George W. Bush and pledge to support any nominee — no matter how partisan, no matter how unqualified — in order to win an election is a stunning betrayal of his duty as a public servant,” he continued. “This is one of the most glaring of the many red flags in Specter’s record that he is willing to put his own political survival over his principles and his duty to the people.”

The news brought a swift denial from the Specter campaign.

“I never made any promise to Sen. Santorum about this,” the senator said in a statement. “I would never make a promise on a vote like this under any circumstances.

“I’m sorry his support for me has caused him trouble in his efforts for the Republican nomination for president, he added. “He’s had six years to make this charge and he hadn’t said anything about it.”

Santorum has spent much of the last year flirting with a presidential campaign, making regular trips to Iowa and other important GOP locations.

Specter supported the confirmation of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, both of whom were nominated in President Bush’s second term. Harriet Miers was also nominated during this time period, but she withdrew from consideration before the Senate could vote to confirm her. She was almost certain not to be confirmed for the position.

The news doesn’t come at a great time for Specter with little more than five weeks left before the primary. Although he maintains at least a 20-point lead in most polls, Sestak has enough money in the bank to wage an aggressive TV campaign in the race’s final weeks.

UPDATE: A spokeswoman for Santorum didn’t back down from the former senator’s account despite Specter’s denial.

“Senator Santorum stands firmly by the statement he made today about the commitment he received from Senator Specter in 2004 to support President Bush’s nominations to the Supreme Court,” Santorum spokeswoman Virginia Davis told PoliticsPA. “And there was no better illustration of that commitment than Senator Specter’s ardent defense of both Justices Alito and Roberts during their confirmation hearings.”

UPDATE 2: The Sestak campaign issued a second statement Sunday afternoon, saying the alleged deal “goes far beyond Washington dealmaking.” He also linked the controversy to the recent Supreme Court decision, Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission, which granted corporations the right to spend an unlimited amount of money in campaigns.

“Rick Santorum’s revelation that the sitting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was shepherded through the confirmation by a Judiciary Chairman — Arlen Specter — who had sold his support in a political quid pro quo casts a serious doubt on the integrity of that process,” Sestak said. “As chairman, Specter oversaw the confirmation to lifetime appointments of two Supreme Court Justices and 16 federal appellate court judges. He owes the American people an explanation as to why — aside from his own political survival — he found these judges worthy of lifetime appointments to the bench.

“This goes far beyond Washington dealmaking,” he added. “In auctioning his objectivity and immense influence as Judiciary Chairman, Specter didn’t just sell out his own independence and integrity, he sold out the people of Pennsylvania and the United States. And — as we’ve seen in the disastrous Citizens United ruling that allows unlimited corporate money in politics — this deed could have repercussions for generations to come.”

Sestak will almost certainly bring up the controversy again Sunday night, when he’s set to once again debate Toomey in Philadelphia.

April 10th, 2010 | Posted in Front Page Stories | 1 Comment

One thought on “UPDATED: Santorum says he endorsed Specter in exchange for Supreme Court help”

  1. This further impugns Santorum’s putative Presidential prospects.

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