"This is not a national story. It is a Pennsylvania story," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters in a news conference following Tuesday’s GOP policy luncheon.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said that Specter – who spoke at the lunch – had been “very candid to acknowledge that this was nothing more, nothing less than political self-preservation.”
Two leading Senate GOP moderates said earlier in the day Tuesday that Specter’s decision underscored the hostility Republican centrists feel in a party that’s increasingly conservative. Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe said that the GOP hasn’t been offering “warm encouraging words” about moderates. South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham suggested that the Republican Party risked becoming little more than the Club for Growth. “I want to be a member of a vibrant national Republican party that can attract people from all corners of the country — and we can govern the country from a center-right perspective,” he said.
McConnell said Specter told him of his decision late Monday, and that Specter had said he decided to make the switch because he couldn't win reelection as a Republican or an Independent.
McConnell acknowledged that the GOP was now at the mercy of Democrats, who will have a 60-vote majority if Al Franken is seated from Minnesota
But McConnell said the pressure would now be on moderate Democrats from conservative states who, he explained, would have to decide whether to vote with their party leaders to sustain the 60-vote bloc.
"I think there will be more pressure on Red State democrats who ran as moderates to actually vote as moderates," he said.
McConnell also said that Democrats won’t be able to count on Specter as an automatic vote in their corner. Specter assured him, he said, that he still opposed the Employee Free Choice Act.