Video: Senator battles more than politics

By Brian Williams Anchor & “Nightly News” managing editor
NBC News
updated 9/13/2005 7:42:42 PM ET 2005-09-13T23:42:42

Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, knows this one is for the history books. His last chemo treatment was in late July.

Does he realize that he’s something of a hero to a lot of people living with cancer?

“I have no apologies for having Hodgkin's cancer lymphoma,” he replies, “and I'm going to go right about doing my business.”

The senator, who looks so startlingly different than he did just months ago, knows he could have instead put on a wig or remained out of the public eye, but, says Specter, “I believe in being very natural about it. I believe in just doing it the way I feel like doing it and expressing myself.”

This is not Specter’s first health scare. Back in 1993, Specter survived a brain tumor. Five years later he underwent heart bypass surgery. He says his brushes with death have made him hyper-aware of the lifesaving possibilities of stem cell research. He brought an hourglass to a Senate hearing, he says, to point out: “Time's a-wasting.”

“I'm now engaged in a fierce battle,” he says. “This is a personal matter.”

From his earliest days in politics — on the staff of the Warren Commission, running for mayor of Philadelphia in 1967, to his 25 years in Congress, Specter has been unafraid to act independently. It's a virtue he believes will serve him well throughout these hearings.

“The activities that I have undertaken respect my parents' values,” explains Specter. “Both were immigrant, and growing up on the plains of Kansas, I've been imbued with what I think has been accurately characterized as independence, perhaps fierce independence.”

That independence got him into deep trouble in his own party, when he said publicly that he doubted the Senate would confirm a nominee who would overturn Roe vs. Wade.

“Roe vs. Wade and a woman's right to choose will be front and center,” he says. “That is the big, big issue. But it is not the only issue.”

Unlike past hearings — this is Specter's 10th confirmation hearing — he sees his role as chairman as more of an “umpire.”

“The people who are following this very important Supreme Court nomination,” says Specter, “should know that the committee and I are going to approach it thoroughly, on the law, in a dignified fashion to find out as much as we can about Judge Roberts' jurisprudence, his judicial philosophy, and to make an informed judgment on what is good for America.”

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