Updated: 3:45 p.m.
One week after toppling Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) in the Senate Democratic primary, Rep. Joe Sestak dropped by the Senate Democrats’ regular Tuesday lunch.
But far from being a surprise appearance, the luncheon meet and greet was orchestrated as a way to pay tribute to Specter and show Sestak that the Democratic caucus is now united behind his candidacy, Senators and aides said.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) saluted Specter “not only for his physical courage as he’s battled cancer and brain surgery, but his moral and political courage to help us pass stimulus across the aisle, to help us pass historic health care, and then the kind of class act he is, [on] election night to say, I’m for Joe Sestak, after all he’s been through,'” Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said.
Democrats gave Specter a standing ovation that could be heard from outside the closed meeting.
Specter then introduced Sestak, Durbin said, and Sestak praised Specter, particularly for his work in increasing funding for the National Institutes of Health.
“It was a great moment, and Joe Sestak made a very positive impression,” Durbin said. “I think everybody in that room felt like Arlen had done the right thing, and we’re all going to stand behind Joe Sestak.”
Reid has made a practice of inviting primary winners — particularly those serving in the House — to visit his caucus, but this one could be considered more awkward than the rest, given Sestak defeated a sitting member of the Conference.
On his way into the luncheon, Sestak again dodged questions about what job the Obama administration may have offered him last year while trying to clear the primary field for Specter. Specter bolted the GOP in April 2009 after it became clear he would probably lose a Republican primary challenge from former Republican Rep. Pat Toomey.
Sestak has said the White House offered him a job to exit the race but has refused to give details. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said administration lawyers have reviewed conversations with Sestak and found nothing improper.