- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Republican Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont will announce today whether he is leaving the GOP, a move that could throw control of the Senate to the Democrats and seriously impair President Bushs legislative agenda.
Mr. Jeffords met with Mr. Bush yesterday in a session that a White House aide described as "cordial but inconclusive." He also met with Vice President Richard B. Cheney.
A top Senate Republican leadership aide said last night that Mr. Jeffords will switch parties.
"Hes going over the top," the aide said. "I think hell have a 'D next to his name."
But Mr. Jeffords himself remained cryptic about his plans when he returned to the Capitol in early evening.
"Meetings with the president always go well," the Vermont Republican told reporters. "I cant wait to get home to see my wife and son and daughter-in-law, who havent heard it yet."
He told reporters he would make an announcement today "about what Im going to do." Mr. Jeffords refused to say anything further and fled reporters into a private Senate elevator.
A spokesman for Mr. Jeffords did not return repeated phone calls.
The White House aide said Mr. Jeffords had agreed not to make any switch until after the Senate approves Mr. Bushs $1.35 trillion tax-cut plan this week.
Some Republicans suggested last night that Mr. Jeffords might switch to an independent, a move that apparently could keep the GOP in control of the Senate if he voted for Sen. Trent Lott to remain as majority leader.
Two television networks reported last night that Mr. Jeffords would quit the Republican Party.
ABC News.com cited "several Republican staffers" who said their bosses had told them Mr. Jeffords would leave his party. CNN reported that Mr. Jeffords had decided to switch parties, but his staff was trying to talk him out of it.
Despite the widespread talk of a party switch, an informed Republican source said last night that Mr. Jeffords was engaged in some "heavy horse trading" with the White House over the details of the tax bill and over his earlier demands for $180 billion in funding for special education programs in the budget.
"He has his wish list and hes negotiating with the White House on it," said the source who spoke to The Washington Times on condition of anonymity.
At the same time, the source said that the senators staff on the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee, of which Mr. Jeffords is chairman, has been going about routine business, "calling Republican senators to see who can chair upcoming hearings. The staff would not be calling Republicans on the committee if he were thinking about jumping ship."
"Jeffords is horse trading with the White House, seeing how much he can get out of them, and using the ultimate weapon," the source said.
Senate Assistant Majority Leader Don Nickles said he spoke to Mr. Jeffords several times yesterday, including after Mr. Jeffords meeting with Mr. Bush, and does not expect him to quit the GOP.
"I hope and expect that he will [stay in the party]," Mr. Nickles said. "I very much want him to stay. Hes a valuable player in our caucus."
He said of Mr. Jeffords political career: "Hes been a Republican all his life. Its a very important decision."
Asked if he would be surprised if Mr. Jeffords leaves the party, Mr. Nickles said: "Id be so disappointed that words would not be able to express. I would be surprised and sorely disappointed. It would be a serious problem for us."
Mr. Jeffords, 76, was re-elected to his third term last year.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle said last night that he had no inkling of Mr. Jeffords plans.
"I honestly dont know," Mr. Daschle said. "I have not talked to him today."
But Mr. Daschle said other Senate Democratic leaders had talked to Mr. Jeffords yesterday.
Mr. Jeffords has been a thorn in the side for Republican leadership and Mr. Bush this year as a Republican vote they cannot count on. He held out against Mr. Bushs $1.6 trillion tax cut to demand about $180 billion over 10 years for special education.
Two weeks ago, the White House indicated that Mr. Bush might try to end dairy-price supports in the Northeast, a program very important to Mr. Jeffords. The speculation about Mr. Jeffords switching parties intensified after the news of the potential payback by the White House against him.
Mr. Jeffords also was reported to be angry at the White House several weeks ago when he was not invited to a "teacher of the year" ceremony to honor an educator from the senators home state.
The Washington Times reported on Monday that Senate Democrats had offered Mr. Jeffords chairmanship of the Health, Education and Labor Committee — a post he holds now — if he would leave the GOP.
But Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, said he expects Mr. Jeffords to remain either as a Republican or an independent.
"At the end of the day, I believe Senator Jeffords will remain part of the Republican caucus," Mr. Lugar said. "Hes an independent thinker. I think hes been taken for granted."
Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, told reporters last night that "nobody really knows whats going to happen."
"Its important for you guys to remember, unless you get 60 votes, you dont control anything," Mr. McConnell said. Sixty votes are required to end a filibuster in the Senate and move ahead with legislation.
Some Democrats were clearly enthusiastic last night at the prospect of regaining control of the chamber and setting the agenda.
"It would be a truly dramatic change," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat. "Olson would be practicing law," referring to solicitor general nominee Theodore B. Olson, whose nomination is on hold after a tie vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Mr. Biden said if he were to become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he would call hearings on what he said are discrepancies between the statements of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on removing U.S. troops from the Balkans. He said in general Democrats would appropriate even more money for education and other social programs.
* Donald Lambro contributed to this report

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