- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2001

Democrats twice offered committee chairmanships to Sen. James M. Jeffords in their effort to get the Vermont Republican to switch parties, according to top Senate sources.
Mr. Jeffords refused both offers, which were made two weeks ago, officials close to Senate Republican leaders told The Washington Times yesterday.
Were Mr. Jeffords to switch, Democrats would take control of the Senate for the first time since 1994. Currently, the Senate is divided 50-50, with Vice President Richard B. Cheneys tie-breaking vote giving Republicans control.
Senate sources say Democrats first offered Mr. Jeffords — currently chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee — the chairmanship of the Environment and Public Works Committee.
That committee is currently chaired by Sen. Robert C. Smith, New Hampshire Republican. Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, is the ranking minority member of the committee and would normally ascend to the chairmanship were Democrats to gain control of the Senate.
When Mr. Jeffords refused that offer, Senate Republican officials say, Democrats then offered to let him retain his current committee chairmanship. That means that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees ranking minority member, was willing to give up his claim to the chairmanship in order to switch Mr. Jeffords and return the Senate to Democratic control.
ABC News reported rumors over the weekend that Mr. Jefford was "seriously toying with switching parties." Republicans close to Mr. Jeffords yesterday dismissed such speculation.
"I would be surprised," Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, who has served with Mr. Jeffords in the Senate for 10 years, told The Times.
Mr. Craig, who sang along with Mr. Jeffords and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott in the Singing Senators quartet, said he "has worked closely with Jim over the years, and have differed with him on issues, but I believe he is a Republican at heart."
Top Republicans told The Times that the best evidence that Mr. Jeffords is not, at the moment, about to leave the party is that the Bush White House is not on the phone to Mr. Jeffords or his friends trying to dissuade him from doing do.
"Believe me, the Bush White House political operation would be all over Vermont tying to stop that if it were about to happen," a Republican close to the White House said.
The rumor puzzled Vermont friends of Mr. Jeffords, a fourth-generation Republican.
"I find it hard to believe he would leave," said Sarah Gear Boyd, a close friend of the Jeffords family and Vermont member of the Republican National Committee. "I dont see what the gains are, and he does have the support of moderate Republicans in Vermont and a lot of conservative Republicans too."
Vermont Republicans "understand the value of having him in the position he is in in Washington," Mrs. Boyd said, "He has done a lot of good things, has been a great help especially for hospitals in Vermont."


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