Thursday, May 31, 2001

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said yesterday that Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont staged “a coup of one” by quitting the Republican Party and offered a preview of Republicans strategy for thwarting the Democrats liberal agenda.
“The people of Vermont did not vote to put Democrats in control of the Senate,” Mr. Lott said in a radio interview. “The decision of one man has trumped the will of the American people.”
The Mississippi Republican, in his strongest comments yet on the pending power shift, also said there are “ominous signs” for the U.S. military with Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan becoming chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Mr. Lott also predicted higher federal spending with the Appropriations Committee under the control of Democratic Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia.
Mr. Lott said that when Democrats take over the Senate on Tuesday, Republicans will offer amendments to create tax breaks for small businesses on a “fatally flawed” Democratic bill to reform health maintenance organizations. He said Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, will try to add an amendment to the pending education bill that would prevent schools from discriminating against the Boy Scouts of America, whose policy bars homosexuals from acting as troop leaders.
“Theres something liberating about being in the minority,” Mr. Lott said. “Youre not as consumed with trying to move the train. Youre freer to advocate positions and amendments you really think should be adopted. The peoples agenda, and President Bushs agenda, will be voted on.”
Mr. Lotts interviews yesterday on the Oliver North and Sean Hannity conservative talk radio shows were his most candid remarks since Mr. Jeffords announced his defection last week.
The outgoing majority leaders comments are aimed at stemming criticism from conservatives who argue that Mr. Lott should have prevented Mr. Jeffords from becoming an independent and throwing control of the 50-50 chamber to “Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton and others.”
“Im a big boy, I can take that,” Mr. Lott said of the criticism. “[But] theres really only one person to blame for this and its Jim Jeffords. He was always very liberal in his views and quite often agreed with [Sen.] Ted Kennedy” of Massachusetts.
A Jeffords spokesman declined to comment yesterday.
Mr. Lott indicated that one of the main reasons he harmonized with Mr. Jeffords in the Singing Senators quartet for the past six years was to keep him in the party.
“Ive tried to make him feel personally at home,” Mr. Lott said. “Thats one of the reasons we had this infamous singing quartet.”
The majority leader chided Mr. North during a commercial break in the program for introducing him to the audience as “the new Senate minority leader.” He was unusually pointed in his criticism of individual Democratic senators who were about to assume powerful committee chairmanships.
On appropriations, he said, “With Bob Byrd as chairman, theres no question theres going to be greater pressure to spend more.”
Mr. Lott warned that Mr. Levin “opposes abrogating” the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and wants “to blame somebody” for high fuel prices.
“There are ominous signs in it for our defense,” Mr. Lott said of Mr. Levin taking over the Armed Services Committee. “The Russians are less worried about [U.S.] missile defense than some of our own senators.”
Levin spokeswoman Tara Andringa said Mr. Lotts comments were “not entirely accurate.” She said Mr. Levin does not oppose a missile defense system in all circumstances.
“He believes that we must look at a national defense system to make sure it makes us more secure, and that involves consulting with our allies,” she said.
“And he believes we need to look at the cost.”
Asked by Mr. Hannity if he was afraid that Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona also might leave the party, Mr. Lott acknowledged that he was concerned when Mr. McCain voted against the administrations $1.35 trillion tax cut last week.
“He has cast some votes … that really cause you to step back,” Mr. Lott said. “Youre not going to take anyone for granted. Hes gotten mad at me at times. But weve always been able to keep lines of communication open.”
Mr. McCain last week denied speculation that he was considering switching parties.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota will take over as majority leader on Tuesday, and the top Democrats on all 20 committees automatically will become chairmen. Republicans and Democrats will begin talks next week on other reorganizational matters, including committee ratios, and Mr. Lott yesterday reiterated his insistence on ensuring that Democrats would not block Mr. Bushs nominations on a wholesale basis.
“Were going to make sure a new organizing resolution … is fair to Republicans,” he said.

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