Paul Kane of the Washington Post’s "Capitol Briefing" blog wrote recently that although the Senate Judiciary Committee voted on Thursday to approve subpoenas for top White House aides in connection with the prosecutor-firing scandal, former committee chairman Arlen Specter appeared to have great difficulty deciding how to vote.
So he didn’t. Or, he may have, but not audibly, or if he did say something it definitely was not either "aye" or "nay." He was willing to say at least that much.
Kane writes that after 90 minutes of heated debate, the Democrats went along with Republican requests not to hold a roll-call vote on the measure. (That’s 90 minutes of heated debate just on how to take the vote, not about what the result should be.) Chairman Patrick Leahy ordered a voice vote — "all in favor say ‘aye.’" The assembled reporters were able to tell that all the Democrats yelled "aye," as did one Republican (Sen. Grassley of Iowa, who probably just said it rather than yelling it). Seven other Republicans then yelled "nay" — but when the dust settled nobody seemed to be sure how the remaining Republican, Sen. Specter, had voted.
There appeared to be a firm consensus that, when the "ayes" were requested, Specter "clearly opened his mouth and seemed to move his lips." But no one could confirm whether any sound had actually emanated from between the lips. And when Leahy asked for the "nays," neither Specter’s lips nor any of his other mouth parts appeared to move at all.
The media sprang into action. "Capitol Briefing convened a meeting of reporters afterward to decide whether Specter had voted in favor of the subpoenas. There was no clear answer," and of course no written record of the vote. Nor was Specter willing to clarify matters. "Specter refused to say which way he voted," Kane wrote. "He said he did what he did and if we didn’t notice he wasn’t going to help us." They left. Later, however, Specter seemed to realize that not taking a position on whether he had taken a position might not be the best position to take, and he tracked down some reporters himself.
"The fact of the matter," he said, "is that I did not say anything. I did not vote and [did not] say either ‘aye’ or ‘nay.’ I just sat there hoping that it would all go away through negotiations. Factually, I did not say a thing." Specter did not deny that his mouth might have moved when the "ayes" were requested, nor did he claim that it moved at all during the "nay" period. But he seemed to be insisting that regardless of what one or both of his lips might have been doing, no information-modulated sound had escaped from between them and so, legally, no vote had been made.
Still photo from a C-SPAN video. Experts believe the photo shows
Specter’s top lip locked in the "no" position, at the same time his
lower lip is in the process of deploying in order to articulate "yes."
The conflict may explain his inability to cast any vote whatsoever.
In the end, of course, it didn’t matter, because the vote was already 11 to 7 in favor of approving the subpoenas, and so his making noise would not have made a difference. Besides, you never know. If you just sit there, it may all go away through negotiations. On the other hand, that never worked for Larry when Moe and Curly were having a dispute. (Yes, I learned most of my negotiation skills from the Three Stooges. Try grabbing the other guy’s nose with a pair of pliers during your next mediation. Works wonders.)
Kane reminds us that Specter has been on the fence before, most prominently 1999 when it was time to vote on whether to impeach President Clinton. Specter voted "not proven," citing Scottish law for an action intended to express the fact that one disapproves yet feels constrained not to convict. (Hey, at least he emitted a sound.) The other 99 senators, stuck with the boring old American legal tradition, all voted either "guilty" or "not guilty."