Sen. James M. Jeffords was rewarded yesterday with a committee chairmanship and other key panel assignments for switching parties and giving Democrats control of the Senate.
June 6 switch of the Vermont Republican to independent gave Democrats committee chairmanships plus a one-seat advantage on committees, but those assignments were not formalized until yesterday by the Democratic caucus.
Jeffords emerged from the shake-up a clear winner, with chairmanship of the Environment and Public Works Committee plus a seat on two additional A-list committees and two B-list committees.As chairman of the committee overseeing environmental issues, Mr. Jeffords said he will focus on Clean Air Act reform and a review of the Superfund law.
I’ll make sure that we continue our strong commitment to federal transportation projects and I pledge to bring Vermont’s environmental ethic to the forefront of national policy,” Mr. Jeffords said.
Mr. Jeffords cited disagreements with President Bush and the Republican Party in announcing his party switch, and some Capitol Hill Republicans express concern he will use his committee chairmanship to lob tough, environmental-issue bombs at the White House. While Mr. Bush’s job-approval rating remains high, his poll numbers on environmental issues continue to sag.
“There’s always the danger of politicizing environmental issues, and the Democrats do very well at it sometimes,” said Sen. Robert C. Smith, New Hampshire Republican and former committee chairman.
“Hopefully, we can work on policy matters and work together.”The committee includes several Republicans who often cross party lines on environmental issues, giving Democrats an extra boost to bring up thorny issues.
“The committee is not going to be doing any favors for the administration, I can assure you of that,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican.
Mr. Jeffords also retained his position on the Finance Committee. In addition, Mr. Jeffords will continue to serve on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee he once chaired, Veterans’ Affairs Committee and as a member on the Special Committee on Aging.
“Wow, it looks like Jeffords is getting all kinds of goodies,” said one Republican aide after the announcement.
“He did very well in negotiating his terms to the Democrats, and has been rewarded handsomely for his switch,” the aide said.
Mr. Jeffords is the first independent or third-party senator to be chairman of a committee since Henrik Shipstead, Printing Committee chairman, in 1933.
Other committee chairmanships were assigned as expected to the ranking Democrat members. Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, was next in line to head the environmental committee but sacrificed the position for Democratic control of the Senate. Mr. Reid will instead be chairman of the Select Committee on Ethics, a B-list assignment.
The only notable committee assignment was Sen. John Edwards, who now has a seat on the Judiciary Committee. The North Carolina Democrat is looking at a presidential run in 2004, and the assignment gives him the platform to oppose Mr. Bush’s conservative judicial nominees and build his Democratic base.
Mr. Edwards is already threatening to “blue slip” or veto the nomination of Terrence Boyle, a former aide to Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican.