- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 6, 2001

President Bush yesterday put a brave face on the Democratic takeover of the Senate, insisting that "we can still get things done" as he met with James M. Jeffords hours before the senator tipped the balance by formally bolting the Republican Party.
"I think we have an opportunity — I know we have an opportunity — to show the American people that although the structure of the Senate may have been altered somewhat, that we still can get things done in a way thats positive for America," Mr. Bush told reporters as he huddled with Mr. Jeffords and other senators in the White House.
A journalist told the president that Mr. Jeffords was leaving the GOP because the Vermont senator "could no longer work as well with you" and others in a party with such a "conservative bent."
Mr. Bush chuckled and said, "Why do you want to make the guy feel bad in front of TV cameras?"
Turning serious, the president said yesterdays meeting with non-Republicans, including Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, was aimed at bolstering his ability to govern through bipartisanship.
"Thats what this meeting is all about," Mr. Bush said. "Theres going to be an opportunity for us to work on a variety of issues.
"We did so on the tax relief package," he said. "That package got a pretty good Democrat vote out of the Senate and a good Democrat vote out of the House."
The president also cited bipartisan progress on his education plan, which has broad support among Democrats, and he indicated that there was room for compromise on a patients bill of rights.
"Theres going to be a lot of give-and-take on key issues," Mr. Bush said. "So Im confident well be able to work together."
Still, the White House remains stung by Mr. Jeffords defection, which deprived Mr. Bush of a GOP majority in the Senate just 41/2 months after taking office. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card has reproached himself for being blindsided by the switch.
In order to guard against additional defections, the White House has embarked upon an ambitious schedule of "preventive maintenance" that involves a heightened attentiveness to the handful of liberals in the Senates GOP caucus.
Just hours after he met with Mr. Jeffords, the president had dinner at the White House with Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, who spent the weekend socializing with the Senates new majority leader, Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. Mr. McCain has repeatedly vowed not to leave the GOP.
Tomorrow Mr. Bush plans to meet with Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, perhaps the most liberal Republican left in the Senate. Later in the day, the president will have dinner with Mr. Daschle at the White House.
Mr. Daschle yesterday complained about the "harsh partisanship" of the Senate when it was controlled by Republicans and promised to set a new tone.
"I would hope that we could show a real difference in both the direction we hope to take the Senate agenda, as well as the tone," he told reporters on Capitol Hill. "Youve heard me lament week after week and month after month about the tone, the nature of the harsh partisanship that you and we experienced over the last several months. Im hopeful that we can change that."
He added: "So our hope is not necessarily to move a purely ideological agenda, but one that enjoys bipartisan support and ideas right from the beginning."
Mr. Bush refrained from criticizing the Democrats. Instead, he emphasized his hopefulness for the future.
"Im confident we can get something done in a positive way," the president said.
One of the Democratic senators who joined Mr. Bush for yesterdays meeting with Mr. Jeffords was Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, who as Al Gores running mate waged a fierce campaign against Mr. Bush. As reporters were ushered out of the Cabinet Room, the president turned to his old nemesis and said, "You handled that well."
Mr. Lieberman smiled and answered, "Silence is golden."
Before yesterdays White House meeting, Mr. Bush helped build a house in Tampa, Fla., for Habitat for Humanity. Reporters at the construction site teased White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer that the presidents charity work would be overshadowed by news about the Democratic takeover of the Senate.
Mr. Fleischer laughed and said: "You notice hes building a house, not a Senate."


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