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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, his son Shanin told the Associated Press.
Throughout 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.
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.
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