CLEVELAND — President Bush yesterday asserted he “was elected to get things done on behalf of the American people” and will not be derailed by a Senate controlled by Democrats.
Having run a campaign pledging bipartisanship and an end to the bitter acrimony that has ruled Washington for the past eight years, Mr. Bush said recent votes on his budget, tax-cut and education packages prove he can rise above a closely divided Senate and draw Democratic support for his proposals.
“Our agenda for reforming Americas public schools and providing tax relief for every taxpayer represents the hopes and dreams of Main Street America,” Mr. Bush said.
“I was elected to get things done on behalf of the American people and to work with both Republicans and Democrats, and were doing just that,” he said.
In Vermont last night however, Mr. Jeffords told reporters that he had given Mr. Bush on Tuesday a “blunt” warning that he had to back up his school reform plans with money.
Mr. Jeffords said he told Mr. Bush that if he did not do this, “I firmly believe he would be a one-term president.”
While stunned Republicans struggled to come to grips with the impending power shift on Capitol Hill, some Democratic strategists said Senate Democrats — who stalled Mr. Bushs tax-cut plan for three days with dozens of amendments — may now find themselves in a vulnerable position.
“Theyre like the dog that was chasing the car and actually caught it: What do we do with it now?” said Scott Segal, a Democratic strategist.
“If they are viewed as being obstructionist, it can do some damage. They have to share part of the blame if theres too much sand in the gears of the legislative process.”
Aides said Mr. Bush did not watch the Vermont news conference in which Sen. James M. Jeffords announced his decision to drop out of the Republican Party because he said it is no longer inclusive of centrist perspectives. “Respectfully, I couldnt disagree more,” Mr. Bush said.
Following Mr. Jeffords announcement, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the president was not angry with Mr. Jeffords.
“The president disagrees with Senator Jeffords assessment that the agenda that has been presented to the Congress is not a bipartisan agenda, an agenda that suggests there is no room for centrists, for independent thinkers,” Mr. Fleischer told reporters aboard Air Force One.
The spokesman again dismissed the notion that the Vermont senator made the switch because he was unhappy with Republican efforts to punish him for not voting with the party on several key Bush measures.
The White House did not invite Mr. Jeffords — who almost singlehandedly forced a $250 billion reduction in the presidents proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut — to a Rose Garden ceremony honoring a Vermonter as Teacher of the Year.
Also, rumors floated that the Bush administration was contemplating ending a dairy compact that allows the six New England states to set milk prices.
“The Senator could not have said it plainer himself this morning, that its a laughable notion that the teacher event had anything to do with his change,” Mr. Fleischer said.
As proof that the president can overcome Democratic resistance on his agenda, Bush officials pointed to the presidents success at moving two of his priorities through Congress.
His tax-cut proposal passed the Senate this week 62-38 with the support of 12 Democrats, and the House on Wednesday moved his education reform package to the Senate on an overwhelming vote of 383-45, with more than 100 Democrats supporting the measure.
“Obviously, the vote in the House [Wednesday] says the presidents agenda on education is a bipartisan one that makes plenty of room for independents and centrists,” Mr. Fleischer said.
“The presidents tax cut is an agenda that appeals to all, except the far left. There are going to be people who are going to be part of a minority who will not agree with a bipartisan majority that the president has formed,” he said.
Mr. Fleischer pointed to Mr. Bushs achievements as governor of Texas, where Democrats controlled both chambers during much of his tenure. Mr. Bush cultivated a critical alliance with Bob Bullock, a crusty Democrat and powerful lieutenant governor.
“This president has a history of reaching out to people in his party, in the opposite party. Thats how he led in Texas; thats how hes going to continue to lead here,” Mr. Fleischer said.
Along with the power shift comes the risk for a coalition of 40 or more Democratic senators who have opposed Mr. Bush on nearly every proposal.
“The Democrats now have part of the responsibility for the progress of government,” Mr. Segal said. “They cant just be critics.”
“If Tom Daschle ends up being viewed as an obstructionist, he could hamper the ability of the Democrats to mount a credible campaign either for the House in 2002 or for the White House in 2004,” he said.
“He has to be careful; he has to walk a bit of a tightrope,” Mr. Segal said.
Several Democrats also made an immediate show of bipartisanship just hours after Mr. Jeffords announcement.
Two senators joined 49 Republicans to confirm Theodore B. Olson as U.S. solicitor general.
Mr. Daschle, who chatted with Mr. Bush for 10 minutes as the president flew home from an event at a Catholic parish soup kitchen to draw attention to his faith-based initiative, vowed to remain open to Republican ideas.
“This will be Americas first 50-49-1 Senate. What does not change with this new balance of power is the need for principled compromise,” Mr. Daschle said.