Jeffords set to switch parties

The Vermont Republican calls a press conference for Wednesday, and could change the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.

Published May 22, 2001 5:01PM (EDT)

Big buzz

Sen. James Jeffords, a Vermont Republican, has called a press conference for Wednesday morning that could alter the balance of power in Washington. According to the Evans-Novak Political Report, Jeffords will announce he is switching parties, giving Democrats a 51-49 majority in the Senate.

Evans and Novak sent out this bulletin late Tuesday:

"GOP Sen. James Jeffords (Vt.) was overheard on Tuesday telling a Democratic colleague that he will switch parties.

"According to sources, Jeffords said that once the tax cut bill passes he will travel to the White House and tell President Bush he will join the Democratic party. Jeffords' aides said Bush's decision not to invite him to a ceremony honoring a Vermont teacher is prompting him to switch parties.

"If Jeffords follows through with his intention, the political landscape changes dramatically. Democrats would become the majority party in the Senate, altering the make-up of committees and derailing Bush's judicial nominations and his goal of restraining federal spending. Also, Republican energy plans would be very difficult to pass through the Senate."

Rumors hit fever pitch Tuesday after a piece by Associated Press reporter David Espo. "With speculation already swirling that Democrats had offered a number of enticements, including a committee chairmanship, Jeffords' spokesman, Erik Smulson, said Monday: 'This is not about committee chairmanships. Regardless of party label, Senator James Jeffords will continue to do what's best for Vermont and the nation,'" Espo writes.

Espo explains the reasons for Jeffords' possible change of heart this way: "Jeffords angered many in his party when he refused to support President Bush's original budget this spring with its call for a $1.6 trillion tax cut over 10 years. Instead, he aligned himself with a bipartisan group of moderates that favored a smaller tax cut, a coalition that helped hand Bush an early legislative setback. A short while later, Jeffords was not invited to the White House for a National Teacher of the Year award ceremony honoring a Vermont high school educator."

"My Lord, what a bunch of shortsighted vindictive pricks we have in the White House," writes one poster at "Not only do they want to 'punish' Jeffords for taking a principled stand, but they want to punish Vermont dairy farmers as well. Ben & Jerry should name a new ice cream after these cretins."

Other senators have been rumored to be contemplating party changes as well, perhaps none more than Georgia Democrat Zell Miller, who has emerged along with Louisiana's John Breaux as the White House's best friend on the Democratic side of the U.S. Senate.

"One can only hope that the good senator John McCain is next," writes one Democratic Underground poster. "That sure would stick a boot right up Dubya's buttocks."

But posters at were unimpressed with Jeffords' game of political chicken. "This guy Jeffords is a nothing. If the Senate was not 50/50 we would not even hear about him," writes one.

"Senator Jeffords will continue to do what is best for Senator Jeffords. He is a toad," writes another.

And over at the Free Republic, well ...

"I wrote him a letter asking him to please switch because he really isn't a Republican in the first place," writes one Freeper.

"It just shows these people will sell their souls for power. I don't care if he does switch," fumes another. "He's going to vote against Bush anyway. So, let him sell his soul. Then when they get their butts stomped in two years he'll be sitting back in the minority with everyone hating him. And, if the people who elected him have any sense, they'll start a recall petition."

Anger management

On a day when House Minority Whip David Bonior took the first steps toward a run for Michigan governor, his newborn candidacy was examined by the folks at the Free Republic. Here's a sampling of how Freepers reacted to the news.

In response to a question about whether education will be an issue in the race, one poster chimes in: "Yes. Bonior is actually dumber than a stump."

"I think he was going to lose his seat through redistricting," writes another. "Couldn't happen to a nicer guy! Glad to see him leaving congress, hope he loses the govenor's race."

"Where is the BARF ALERT???" asks another.

Even if Bonior survives what promises to be a bloody Democratic primary, the Freepers were optimistic that conservatives in western Michigan could keep the seat in the Republican column.

"If the east side can be held to 105 percent registered voter turnout, we westsiders may be able to make the difference."

Weblines "Talk of Jeffords Jumping to Dems Heats Up"
Drudge Report: "Lewinsky Wants Her Dirty Dress Back"
Andrew Sullivan: "The Left and Arsenic"
WorldNet Daily: "Microwaved Baby's Mom Pleads Case on Web" "Big Media Pushes News to the Far Right"

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By Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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