- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2001

Republican Sen. James M. Jeffords yesterday agreed to put off for 24 hours his announcement about quitting the GOP as Republican leaders frantically tried to change his mind by offering him a Senate leadership post.
"We contemplated king of the Senate [for Mr. Jeffords], but we dont have that position yet," said Assistant Majority Leader Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican. "Were leaving no stone unturned."
Mr. Jeffords told staff and Democrats yesterday that he had made up his mind to leave the Republican Party and become an independent who votes with Democrats on matters of party control.
Republican hopes of retaining control even with a Jeffords defection were just about ended yesterday when two conservative Democrats — Zell Miller of Georgia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska — firmly rejected any possibility that they would change their party affiliations.
"While I am certain I will often vote with President Bush and the Republicans on many issues, I will not switch to the Republican Party and have no need to proclaim myself an independent," Mr. Miller said in a statement.
Mr. Jeffords has scheduled the announcement for 9:30 a.m. today at a hotel in Burlington in his home state of Vermont.
His decision would throw control of the evenly divided Senate to the Democrats, whose leadership offices yesterday coincidentally received a delivery of about 20 cases of top-shelf liquor. Mr. Jeffords switch would put Democrats in charge of floor debate and all 20 committees, and seriously hamper President Bushs legislative agenda with what one Republican called "hostile oversight."
But Republicans held a series of meetings with Mr. Jeffords throughout the day at the Capitol in the hopes of changing his mind. They got him to delay his announcement, originally scheduled for yesterday afternoon, and then offered to create a highly coveted leadership position for him.
"Hes weighing it all," said Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican and a leader of the Senates Centrist Coalition. "Theres maybe a sliver of hope. He has not closed the door."
However, Jeffords spokesman Erik Smulson said, "He has made up his mind."
Democrats, meanwhile, were making plans to take over. A Democratic leadership aide laid out their plans for assuming power and chairmanships of the committees as soon as Mr. Jeffords formally changes his party affiliation.
Mr. Jeffords pending defection and power shift overshadowed a day of triumph for Senate Republicans and Mr. Bush as the chamber approved a $1.35 trillion tax cut, the centerpiece of the presidents agenda.
Senate Republican leaders at a celebratory news conference pleaded with reporters not to ask questions about Mr. Jeffords, but the issue was clearly on everyones mind.
"This is a political earthquake," said Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican who himself switched parties in 1993.
Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, said his colleagues were waging "a valiant effort to engage Jim."
Mrs. Snowe, who was up with Mr. Jeffords late into the night Tuesday trying to change his mind, said, "This decision has wide-ranging ramifications. Its not just chairmanships. Its staff, its the country, its the presidency."
And the postponement of Mr. Jeffords announcement seemed to worry some Democrats, with their goal so close. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat who openly boasted the night before about his plans for taking over the Foreign Relations Committee, yesterday was less speculative with reporters.
"Im superstitious," Mr. Biden said. "It aint over till its over."
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota kept a low profile yesterday, canceling an afternoon news conference. Mr. Jeffords was seen going into Mr. Daschles office in mid-morning.
Republicans met again with Mr. Jeffords for about 45 minutes late yesterday but emerged with no indication that they had persuaded him to stay in the party. Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, called the meeting "a free-flowing discussion" but added that Mr. Jeffords was "going to join his family" last night in Vermont.
The move to offer Mr. Jeffords a non-elected position in the Republican leadership was promoted by members of the Centrist Coalition such as Mrs. Snowe and Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, in a meeting yesterday morning with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi.
"One of the concerns (Mr. Jeffords) had, that we all share as moderate Republicans, is to have our views incorporated in the agenda and be considered at the highest levels," Mrs. Snowe said.
"We want Jim Jeffords to be that person to have a moderates voice at the table."
The leadership post would give Mr. Jeffords a seat at meetings in which Mr. Lott, Mr. Nickles and their lieutenants plan floor strategy and decide the partys position on a wide range of legislative issues. But one Republican senator worried yesterday that the offer was "too little, too late."
And some conservative Republicans seemed opposed to rewarding Mr. Jeffords, never regarded as a party loyalist, with such a prized post. Asked about the offer, conservative Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said only, "Were pleased hes given us a 24-hour reprieve."
As the leadership cast about for ways to keep Mr. Jeffords in the party, some Republicans were blaming the White House for pushing Mr. Jeffords too far with its threat to eliminate dairy price supports in the Northeast. The hardball tactic was aired after Mr. Jeffords refused to support Mr. Bushs tax cuts in favor of increased funding for special education.
"The lesson here for K Street lobbyists and Republican 'apparatchiks is dont threaten people if they dont vote your way 100 percent of the time," said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican who himself falls into that category.
Others blamed Mr. Lott and his cadre.
"The Senate Republican leadership drove Jim Jeffords to this," a Republican Senate aide said.
The last straw, the aide said, was the decision to deny Mr. Jeffords the $180 billion he wanted over the next decade for special education funding.
"For $180 billion, they would have had a $1.6 trillion tax cut and Trent Lott as the majority leader," the aide said.
Democratic sources say Democrats have offered Mr. Jeffords chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, a far lower-profile post than he holds now as chairman of the Health, Education and Labor Committee.
John Godfrey contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide