- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2001

Sen. James M. Jeffords has been called a traitor and a turncoat, and now is receiving death threats for abandoning the Republican Party and turning control of the Senate over to the Democrats.

"We did receive threats, and we are taking it seriously," said Eric Smulson, Mr. Jeffords´ spokesman.

Mr. Jeffords of Vermont was assigned a Capitol Hill police detail of two officers after denouncing his party last week and declaring himself an independent who will caucus with the Democratic Party. A uniformed officer was also stationed outside his Capitol Hill office in the Hart Senate Office Building.

Mr. Smulson said he could not comment on the death threats or details of the security team, but said the senator´s office is also receiving "dozens of bouquets of flowers and crates of letters from Vermont and across the nation" in support of Mr. Jeffords´ decision.

Staffers in Mr. Jeffords´ state office in Montpelier told Reuters news service they have received several threats over the phone and through the mail. Staff said the threats are directly linked to Mr. Jeffords´ defection from the Republican Party.

Capitol Police officials last week refused to comment on the security detail, which was spotted escorting Mr. Jeffords from his office to the Senate floor through underground Capitol tunnels.

However, police sources said the need for special security is determined by the sergeant at arms, usually after serious threats are made.

Party leaders in the House and Senate have security in their offices and are often accompanied by police to events outside the Capitol, but are rarely seen with a security detail to move around inside heavily guarded Capitol Hill.

Republican aides also spotted the police detail accompanying Mr. Jeffords onto the Senate floor.

The White House said it, too, is concerned about the threats made against Mr. Jeffords and his need for police security.

"Well, obviously, the White House would be concerned about any type of threat of hostility toward any member of Congress, and that includes Sen. Jeffords, of course," said Ari Fleischer, White House spokesman.

An online poll by the Burlington, Vt., Free Press shows 52 percent of readers disagree with Mr. Jeffords´ decision and 48 percent approve. In a separate online poll, 70 percent said Mr. Jeffords´ defection would hurt Vermont.

Mr. Jeffords announced his decision last week to leave the party, citing differences with the Bush administration on education, taxes, missile defense and environmental issues.

The switch, expected to officially take place on Tuesday, will turn control of the Senate and 20 committees over to the Democratic Party.

The shift in power will also make it difficult for President Bush to get his administration appointments and federal judicial nominees confirmed by the Senate. The Senate is now split into 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and one independent.

Other senators who have switched parties in the past decade did not require police protection.

"Nothing like that happened," said a spokeswoman for Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, who switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party in 1994.

Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party in 1995, and also did not require police protection.

The Vermont senator´s defection has angered many in the Republican leadership. Mr. Jeffords´ switch amounted to a "coup of one," said outgoing Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican.

"The American people, and the people of Vermont for that matter, did not vote to put the Democrats in control of the Senate," Mr. Lott said.

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