Ex-senator Arlen Specter dies at 82

5:00 AM, Oct 15, 2012   |    comments
Arlen Specter 1930-2012
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Former senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, an irascible moderate who served for three decades in a Senate increasingly dominated by conservatives and liberals, died Sunday. He was 82.

Specter died Sunday morning at his home in Philadelphia from complications of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

"He was a person who could reach across the aisle, honor the Constitution, and try to work towards bipartisan solutions," said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond and expert on judicial confirmations. "Not everyone would agree with that. There were so many huge battles he was involved in. Maybe eventually that's what did him in."

Through 30 tumultuous years, Specter refused to toe either the Republican or Democratic party line. A Republican for nearly all his life, he nonetheless opposed Robert Bork's Supreme Court confirmation in 1987 and President Bill Clinton's impeachment in 1999.

He infuriated Democrats in 1991 with his prosecutorial questioning of Anita Hill, a law professor who accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. Specter's interrogation helped put Thomas on the high court.

After President Obama took office in 2009, Specter provided key votes for the Democrats' $831 billion economic stimulus package and health care overhaul.

Former president George W. Bush said Specter "loved our country and served it with integrity for three decades" in the Senate.

Specter's career in Washington began with the election of Ronald Reagan and continued through 20 years of Republican administrations and 10 years under Democrats. He switched to the Democratic Party in 2009 to avoid a challenge from conservative Republican Pat Toomey, who nearly defeated him in 2004, but he lost a Democratic primary to Rep. Joe Sestak - who in turn lost to Toomey.

The party switch, which Vice President Biden helped to engineer behind the scenes, temporarily gave Democrats the 60th vote they needed to overcome Republican filibusters against President Obama's health care overhaul.

"I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy and more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party," Specter said upon switching sides.

Later in 2009, Specter got a dose of the growing Tea Party rebellion when he appeared at a town hall meeting in Philadelphia alongside Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

The raucous scene that followed, aired on newscasts and posted on YouTube, would shake Democrats, embolden Republicans and force the White House to accelerate its health care strategy. It nearly succeeded in upending Obama's initiative.

Diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease in 2005 and treated again in 2008, Specter had twice beaten cancer before finally succumbing to it. Even while battling the disease a third time this year, he gamely issued a statement acknowledging "another battle I intend to win" and alluding to his many avocations.

"I'm grateful for all the well wishes I've received," Specter said. "I'm looking forward to getting back to work, to the comedy stage, to the squash court and to the ballpark."

He had bounced back from serious health problems before, including heart bypass surgery and the removal of a benign brain tumor.

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