Pittsburgh, Pa. — New machinations were revealed this day in an intense and divisive Senate primary that was thought to have been finished. The spotlight turned back to this Pennsylvania Senate Democratic primary race when the White House released a memorandum by White House counsel, Robert Bauer. The memorandum was a refutation of previously unpublicized allegations of improper White House conduct in regards to Congressman Joe Sestak.
According to the memorandum, efforts were made in June and July of 2009, by White House personnel, to preemptively curtail a divisive Democratic Senate primary race for the Senate seat currently held by Arlen Specter. In order to prevent Congressman Sestak from entering the Senate race and to assure that the Congressman continued to hold his seat in Congress, discussions were held with Sestak in regards to potential advisory positions that he was qualified for and could hold while continuing to be a Congressman.
Rather than directly contacting Congressman Sestak, the White House used former President Bill Clinton as an intermediary. The exact details of these discussions have not been revealed, but Congressman Sestak chose not to pursue the options presented and continued with his candidacy for Senate. This decision resulted in Sestak’s Democratic primary victory on May 18, 2010.
This press release is particularly surprising coming 10 days after the conclusion of the Senate Democratic primary. Congressman Sestak’s victory in that race assures that he will be the Democratic candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania and ends the 30 year run of Arlen Specter in national politics. Even if misconduct had occurred, it would be moot at this point, which makes it especially unusual for the press release to counter allegations that were never publicly made.
In addition, the press release reveals some rather unusual political jockeying. While it is generally public knowledge that Obama and Specter have a good political relationship, Specter does not have a reliable Democratic Party-line voting record. Until 2009, he was a moderate leaning Republican and his politically inspired decision to switch to the Democratic Party did little to change his voting record.
According to Specter’s platform and voting record, he leans left when it comes to health care, jobs, and energy. He is a generally moderate voter on defense and social security, while voting more in line with Republicans on issues of taxes and homeland security. In contrast, Sestak’s record shows him to vote nearly in lock step with the Democratic platform.
Given his greater support of Obama’s agenda and stronger loyalty to the Democratic Party, Congressman Sestak seems the more likely man to receive the political backing of the President. Yet, based on the press release, it is quite clear that Obama has thrown his unwavering support behind Senator Specter, just as he did when Specter originally switched parties one year earlier.
Some may simply call this politics as usual, but that ignores too much of the records of these three men. Both Obama and Sestak espouse a strong liberal agenda, while Specter is one of the few powerful moderates in the Senate. If anything, it suggests that despite a liberal agenda, Obama sees the need to work with conservatives and powerful moderates are necessary to such cooperation. Sestak’s victory hampers that goal and this preemptive denial of allegations likely has a greater purpose. Not only does it prevent political backlash from a touchy situation, but it subtly reveals the willingness of the White House to compromise on its liberal agenda.
“Memorandum from White House Counsel Regarding the Review of Discussions Relating to Congressman Sestak”, White House
United State Senator Arlen Specter, For the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Congressman Joe Sestak, Serving the 7th District of Pennsylvania