- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2001

What began two weeks ago with Vermont Sen. James M. Jeffords announcement he was leaving the Republican party ended yesterday in a half-hour ceremony on the Senate floor to install Democrats as the majority party.
Outwardly, little changed but signs over office doors and the pin on Sen. Trent Lotts lapel he exchanged his "majority leader" lapel pin for one that reads "Republican leader."
But the official installation of Sen. Robert C. Byrd yesterday as the Senates presiding officer a position called the president pro tempore underscored the power the new majority holds over the legislative process.
"So help me God, I do," Mr. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, said as he took the oath of office with his hand on a stack of books including the Bible and the rules of the Senate.
Mr. Jeffords decision to leave the Republican Party and become an independent supporting the Democrats in organizing the Senate led to the first time in history that power has changed hands in Congress other than through an election.
But the two parties havent agreed on a resolution yet on how to organize, and that dominated most of the conversations and attention yesterday. Without such a resolution, many Senate committees arent meeting.
Still, most of yesterday was business as usual for both the Senate and the House, which is controlled by Republicans. The Senate continued debate on the education reform bill that has been pending with the only change being that Democratic senators presided over the days activity. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Arkansas Democrat, was the first to wield the gavel under the new regime.
"A lot of people think theres going to be more of a cataclysmic change around here than there really is," Mr. Lott said later. "Im not changing offices, Im not losing staff."
So far nobody has lost an office, though the sign over Oklahoma Sen. Don Nickles office changed from "assistant majority leader" to "assistant Republican leader." Democrats will even continue to hold their policy lunches in the Lyndon B. Johnson Room, rather than take over the Republicans Mike Mansfield Room.
But some things have moved. Mr. Jeffords desk was unbolted from the last row of the Republicans center aisle and moved over to the Democrats side. And newly minted Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, had to hold a morning briefing yesterday in a different room because of the number of reporters who showed up.
"I like [the job] so far a lot of friends," Mr. Daschle said as he left the briefing.
A few minutes later he was officially recognized on the floor of the Senate as majority leader, and he and Mr. Lott introduced several resolutions establishing Mr. Byrd as president, and exchanging the titles of the majority and minority secretaries. They also introduced a resolution designating Sen. Strom Thurmond, South Carolina Republican and the outgoing president pro tempore, as president pro tempore emeritus.
Mr. Daschle then gave a short speech in which he called assuming the majority leadership a "humbling moment."
In his response speech, Mr. Lott likened the change of power to Atlas having the weight of the world lifted from his shoulders by Hercules. But, Mr. Lott said, "Im hoping one day the weight will come back."
Mr. Jeffords wasnt present for the short ceremony.
All told, fewer than 40 senators were in the chamber for the speeches. Some including Mr. Thurmond, who as a soldier landed at Normandy on June 6, 1944 were in Bedford, Va., with President Bush for the dedication of the D-Day Memorial.
One of those who is left in a strange position by the power shift is Sen. George F. Allen, Virginia Republican, who as a freshman senator now has no committee assignments. Since senators havent agreed to a new organizing resolution, last years is still in effect, and it doesnt allocate committee assignments for any of the freshman lawmakers.
"George Allen, R-Limbo," he joked, but he said the shift in power has made little difference in the Senate. "At this point I dont think its had that big of an impact. This place moves at such a deliberate pace."


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