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Joseph Sestak was Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, overseeing the Navy's warfare budget. He became the highest-ranking officer ever elected to Congress.
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Shortly after the report was released, Admiral Mike Mullen took over as Chief of Naval Operations and immediately dismissed Sestak from his position as Deputy Chief. Sestak has responded to criticisms of his leadership by arguing that he was assigned the tough job of recommending cutbacks within the Navy—a task sure to engender resentment among his subordinates. Furthermore, Sestak says that he was already planning to retire from the Navy due to a family crisis. In the summer of 2005,
his 3-year-old daughter Alex was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
After his daughter's cancer went into remission, Sestak decided to enter politics. He threw himself into the 2006 race for Pennsylvania's 7th district seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, facing off against 20-year incumbent Republican Curt Weldon. Running a campaign staffed largely by his siblings (Richard, a successful trial lawer; Elizabeth, an American Express executive; and Meg, a Penn Law graduate) Sestak proved an adept fundraiser and grassroots organizer. He secured the Democratic nomination and steadily gained on Weldon in the polls. However, Sestak caught a big break three weeks before the election when the FBI raided Weldon's home in a corruption probe. Sestak won the 2006 election handily, becoming the highest-ranking military officer ever elected to Congress. Sestak went on to win his 2008 reelection campaign over Republican challenger Wendell Craig Williams in a landslide.
Sestak became a mover and shaker immediately upon joining the House of Representatives. Sestak wrote four amendments and pieces of legislation that gained passage during his first year in office, prompting House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer to name him the most productive of the 42 freshman Democratic congressmen. Sestak has had a consistently liberal voting record, siding with the majority of House Democrats on 97.9 percent of votes. His signature issues include a staunchly pro-choice stance on abortion and improved care for veterans and military families.
In August 2009, Sestak announced that he would challenge Senator Arlen Specter for the 2010 Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania's Senate seat. Sestak charged that Specter—a longtime Republican Senator who flipped to the Democratic Party in 2009—only switched parties to save his political career. Sestak's primary campaign achieved national attention as the subject of a short-lived Obama White House scandal. The White House, which had already thrown its support behind Specter, enlisted former President Bill Clinton to offer Sestak an appointment to a high-level White House advisory board if he dropped out of the Senate race. Critics charged that the proposed deal bordered on the line between normal political dealing and criminal tampering with an election, although the charges ultimately seemed to have little substance. Sestak managed to stay above the controversy by rejecting the White House's offer.
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