By Tom Barnes
HARRISBURG -- Some of his critics think U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, having reached the ripe old age of 80, should step down after 30 years in the Senate and not seek re-election.
But he is seeking another six-year term and will face U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak in the Democratic primary May 18. Mr. Specter showed the Pennsylvania Press Club today that he hasn’t lost his wit.
About his age, Mr. Specter quoted oldtime baseball player Satchel Paige, whose age was also the subject of dispute but who played at least into his late 40s.
Mr. Paige, according to the senator, was once asked about his age. He said Mr. Paige would ask himself, "How old do I think I am?’’ and came up with the answer of "37.’’ Mr. Specter said that’s how old he is also.
Mr. Specter also noted that Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is "a decade older than I am.’’ Justice Stevens has finally decided to leave the court this year and Mr. Specter is expected to play a major role in the Senate debate over President Obama’s choice to replace him, as he has with previous Supreme Court nominees, including Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas.
Mr. Specter also referred to a confrontation he had at a town meeting several months ago when an angry man looked him right in the face and criticized some of his stands on issues.
Mr. Specter said the man told him, "God’s going to stand before you’’ to judge him.
"I think he got it mixed up,’’ Mr. Specter quipped. "Senators have power but not that much.’’
He was also asked if he would ever have anything positive to say about Mr. Sestak. "I’m reminded of something (President) Dwight Eisenhower once said about (Vice President) Richard Nixon -- ‘Let me get back to you in two weeks on that’.’’
He criticized Mr. Sestak for missing "127 votes in Congress. He has the worst (voting) record of any member of Congress from Pennsylvania. He said (the votes he missed) weren’t important but that is what we are elected to do.’’
He also accused Mr. Sestak of "hypocrisy’’ for saying he favored the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, but then "he doesn’t pay his campaign workers minimum wage.’’
Mr. Specter also defended his vote in early 2009, when he was still a Republican, to enact President Obama’s controversial economic stimulus plan, which angered many Republican. Mr. Specter said the law has provided crucial funding for Medicare, transportation and jobs and helped keep the recession from turning into a depression.
He admitted the vote was "risky’’ but said it was the right thing to do, and could be "the most important vote I have cast’’ in 30 years in the Senate. He left the GOP shortly after that vote and became a Democrat.