WASHINGTON – Outgoing Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter didn't spill his guts – he has to keep some good bits in reserve for the book he is writing, after all – but he discussed his political legacy Thursday in the first wide-ranging interview since his defeat in the Democratic primary.
For one thing, Specter suggested that President Obama owes him big time for his crucial role in passing the stimulus bill, as well as for casting the 60th vote to ensure that the health-care overhaul and tighter financial-industry regulations passed the Senate – "the three biggest measures he has gotten passed," Specter said.
Not that he's complaining, Specter said; they were all the right things to do, even if the stimulus vote cost him his job. The uproar from conservatives drove him from his longtime home in the Republican Party in April 2009, and he was not able to win the nomination of his new party for a sixth term, despite support from the White House and the rest of the party establishment.
Specter said that history would vindicate his much-ridiculed vote of "not proven" in the 1999 impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, a verdict that is available in Scottish law but not the U.S. system.
"We didn't have a trial, we had a bunch of records of hearsay . . . I wasn't going to vote to convict him without evidence," Specter said.
Specter also joked that he had "aided and abetted" Anita Hill's advancement of woman's rights with his aggressive questioning of her in the 1991 confirmation hearing for now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Hill had accused Thomas of sexual harassment, and Specter nearly lost his 1992 reelection because of his actions.
"Anita Hill has done more to advance women's interests in our society and the world than almost anyone," Specter said.
Specter, 80, has been a fixture in American politics for a generation as a moderate senator. He will be out of office when a new Congress convenes Jan. 5. He said he has offers to practice law, will teach a class at the University of Pennsylvania's law school on Supreme Court confirmations, and hopes to get a regular commentary position on radio or TV. And he is writing a memoir, his third, focusing on the party switch.
As for working for the Obama administration, which welcomed his change in affiliation, "there is nothing in the offing," Specter said.