- The Washington Times - Friday, November 8, 2002

Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont, who bolted from the Republican Party last year and handed control of the Senate to the Democrats, will face no retribution from his former party in the Republican-controlled 108th Congress.

"I doubt there will be any recrimination," a Republican official on Capitol Hill said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

"Rather, there will be an effort to have him vote with us more often," the official said. "With a slim majority of 51 votes, there will be an effort to court him and have him support the Senate Republican leadership as much as possible.

"I can't imagine any attempt to punish him. It's not the smart thing to do."

Mr. Jeffords won national attention in June 2001 when he quit the Republican Party to become an independent who votes with the Democrats on leadership issues, single-handedly throwing control of the Senate to the Democrats.

His decision angered many Republicans on Capitol Hill, who saw it as a betrayal of then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi.

But with Mr. Lott poised to return as Senate majority leader after Tuesday's elections gave Republicans at least two more seats and a 51-47 majority, Republicans on Capitol Hill say they have no intention of punishing Mr. Jeffords. Louisiana will hold a runoff on December 7 for the seat currently held by Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, a Democrat, who is seeking re-election. If the Republican nominee wins, the party's majority would rise to 52.

Party officials yesterday promised a concerted effort to work with the Vermont independent on issues such as education and prescription-drug coverage for Medicare recipients.

"There is much less of a revenge mentality than the press would like. There are some who are enjoying the fantasy of retribution. But there is not one staff person or senator who doesn't understand that what comes around, goes around," a Senate Republican aide said.

Before defecting, Mr. Jeffords frequently clashed with the White House on the need to increase special-education funding.

When asked whether Senate Republican leaders will try to cut such funding for next year, the aide said: "Funding for special education is safe. There are many Republicans who support it and will want to work with Jeffords on that issue."

Even the system of price supports for Northeastern dairy farmers a program that is highly prized by Mr. Jeffords and opposed by conservatives and Midwestern farmers and lawmakers appears safe from Senate Republican budget slashers.

"The dairy issue is opposed by some Republicans, but that is a policy difference. It's not personal," the aide said.

"It's more of a regional issue than a partisan issue," another Republican official said. "It is even popular with some Republicans in the Northeast."

Mr. Jeffords' communications director, Erik Smulson, said yesterday the senator's office has not heard of any talk of retaliation from the Republican leadership.

Mr. Smulson said that Mr. Jeffords has "no regrets" about leaving the Republican Party, despite now being aligned with the Democrats in the Senate. He also said the senator has no intention of returning to the party.

The Republican victory Tuesday night will cost Mr. Jeffords his chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. He will now serve as the panel's ranking member.

Despite the Vermonter's loss of influence, Mr. Smulson said, Mr. Jeffords will still champion issues important to him, such as protecting the environment, increasing special-education funding and expanding prescription-drug coverage.

But many Republicans on Capitol Hill yesterday questioned the wisdom of Mr. Jeffords' decision to become an independent.

"Republicans everywhere are saying that voters in Vermont must be asking themselves what purpose has Jeffords' switch served them now," a Senate aide said.

Rather than retribution, the aide said "Sen. Jeffords has more to fear that nobody will want to do him a favor."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide