Democrats Control Senate As Republican
Democrats moved to take control of the U.S. Senate on Thursday after Sen. James Jeffords (news – web sites) announced he would leave the Republican Party, throwing President Bush (news – web sites)'s conservative agenda into jeopardy.
Making his first comments as the incoming Senate Majority Leader, Senate Democrat leader Tom Daschle promised to work with Bush in a spirit of “principled compromise''.
“This will be America's first 50-49-1 Senate. What does not change with this new balance of power is the need for principled compromise.'' Daschle told a news conference hours after Jeffords' announcement.
Jeffords said he was becoming an independent but would join the Democratic caucus, saying he had fundamental disagreements with Bush on issues from abortion to national defense.
Before Jeffords' move, the Senate was split 50-50, with Vice President Dick Cheney (news – web sites) sometimes called in to break the tie on behalf of Bush.
Bush, reacting to the announcement, said he “couldn't disagree more,'' with Jeffords' reasons for quitting the Republican party, and said he remained committed to working in a bipartisan way to advance his agenda, which includes tax cuts, a massive new missile defense system and conservative judicial nominees.
“I was elected to get things done on behalf of the American people, and to work with both Republicans and Democrats, and we're doing just that,'' Bush said at the beginning of a speech at St. Augustine Parish in Cleveland.
Daschle said he would be speaking by telephone with Bush later in the day. “I stand ready to work with him,'' he said.
In an earlier emotional announcement in Jeffords' home state of Vermont, the moderate senator said he would work with Democrats who will now be in charge of key Senate committees.
“In order to best represent my state of Vermont, my own conscience and principles I have stood for my whole life, I will leave the Republican Party and become an Independent. Control of the Senate will be changed by my decision,'' said Jeffords.
Jeffords' defection will make Daschle of South Dakota the new leader of the Senate, replacing Republican Sen. Trent Lott (news – bio – voting record) of Mississippi, early next month.
POWER SHARING “NULL AND VOID''
Daschle said the previous power sharing agreement with Republicans was now void. “The powersharing organizational resolution will be null and void with this decision. Sen. Lott and I will have to negotiate a new organizational resolution.''
In one piece of good news for Bush, Jeffords told a news conference in Burlington, Vermont, he would not take any action to scuttle the $1.3 trillion tax cut legislation before the president had a chance to sign it.
The senator said that over recent weeks he had had serious disagreements with the Bush administration and it had become a struggle to deal with his party and for its leaders to deal with him.
“Looking ahead I can see more and more instances where I will disagree with the president on very fundamental issues: the issues of choice, the direction of the judiciary, tax and spending decisions, missile defense energy and the environment,'' said Jeffords, who has voted on many instances in the past against the wishes of his party.
“I have changed my party label, but I have not changed my beliefs. Indeed, my decision is about affirming the principles that have shaped my career,'' said Jeffords, to the cheers of hundreds of supporters cramming the lobby of the hotel where he announced his decision.
Jeffords and his wife Elizabeth were greeted with waves of applause as they left the hotel.
President Bush's opponent in the Republican presidential primary, Arizona Sen. John McCain (news – bio – voting record) struck out at his party, criticizing them for targeting Jeffords for his independent streak.
“For his votes of conscience, he was unfairly targeted for abuse, usually anonymously, by short-sighted party operatives from their comfortable perches in K Street (Washington) offices, and by some Republican members of Congress and their staff,'' McCain said in a statement.
Republican senators, some of them angry with the Bush administration over its treatment of Jeffords, had made last minute pleas to the 67-year-old centrist to change his mind.