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2001-05-25

Vermont Senator James Jeffords Defects From Republican Party; Democrats, Now in Control of US Senate for First Time Since 1994, Have Already Compromised On Controversial Bush Nominee Ted Olsen and Bus

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Vermont Senator James Jeffords yesterday announced that he was leaving the Republican Party and declared himself anindependent, giving Democrats control of the Senate for the first time since 1994. (The Senate will be composed of50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and 1 Independent, and the Democrats will head all the Senate committees.)

Jeffords said that the Republican Party has moved further right than he is comfortable with. He said that Bush’selection cemented that conservative ascendancy, leaving no room for moderates.

Tape:

  • Vermont Senator James Jeffords announces his defection from the Republican Party

Despite Jefford’s historic defection, Republican leaders presented a united front against moderating theirconservative agenda. Senator Trent Lott said, "The people’s agenda is the same, and that’s what we’re here for. Ourpriorities are the same." President Bush said that he "couldn’t disagree more" with the decision, and that "I waselected to get things done on behalf of the American people, and to work with both Republicans and Democrats, andwe’re doing just that."

Furthermore, a new resolution must be passed to redistribute seats, but there is already talk of a GOP filibuster ofthe resolution. With 15 federal judgeships pending in the Judiciary Committee, Republicans may filibuster theresolution until they are promised that the Bush nominees will be approved.

Tape:

  • President Bush
  • Senator Trent Lott

In contrast to the Republicans, Democratic senators seemed more intent on compromise.

The Senate yesterday rushed to confirm Theodore Olson as solicitor general. The solicitor general represents thefederal government before the Supreme Court and has become known as the "Tenth Justice." Democratic criticscontended that Olson had evaded questions about his involvement with the "Arkansas Project" — a four-yearinvestigation by the American Spectator magazine, financed with $2.3 million in grants from conservativefoundations, into Bill and Hillary Clinton’s activities in Arkansas. Olson was also one of George W. Bush’sattorneys in the Bush v. Gore case which handed Bush the presidency.

Democrats could have sought to delay the Olson nomination with a filibuster or other procedural tactic. But sourcessaid Democrats did not want their first major fight with the Bush administration on the eve of their Senate takeoverto be over a sub-Cabinet appointment.

Senator Tom Daschle spoke after Jeffords announced his decision, saying: "We can’t dictate to them, nor can theydictate to us. This must be a bipartisan or tripartisan spirit, or it can’t be achieved."

Tape:

  • Senator Tom Daschle

But the most serious compromise the Democrats made was on the Bush administration’s $1.3 trillion tax legislation.Word in the Senate was that Jeffords had insisted that his action should not scuttle the Bush administration’s taxcut as it worked its way through Congress. As a result, Democrats— even as they publicly criticized the measure—agreed to give Republican senators a majority on the conference committee. Senators who had been well aware ofJefford’s probable defection passed the bill on Wednesday.

The transfer of power will not take effect until June 5, and U.S. House and Senate tax negotiators met through thenight last night in the hopes of reaching quick agreement on a final version of the bill. President Bush is urgingCongress to forgo its Memorial Day recess until the tax-cut bill is finished.

Guests:

  • Ed Flanagan, four-time elected state auditor of Vermont, ran against Jim Jeffords last year as a Democrat.
  • Chuck Collins, Co-director of United For a Fair Economy.
  • Terry Allen, freelance writer who has published in the Nation, Harpers Magazine, In TheseTimes and the Boston Globe.

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