Thursday, May 24, 2001

Inouye gains  power

He will lead 3 panels, including
Defense Appropriations
and Indian Affairs

Bush compromises seen
Jeffords cites conscience

By Richard Borreca

Calling the change in leadership "sobering and challenging," Hawaii's senior senator Daniel Inouye today said he will take over chairmanship of three committees: Defense Appropriations, Indian Affairs and Telecommunications.

By the switch in power from Republican to Democratic, Inouye will be handling three of the hottest topics for the country and Hawaii, including the native Hawaiian recognition bill.

The biggest challenge, he said this morning in an interview from Washington, will be the telecommunications subcommittee of the commerce committee.

"We have AT&T and the baby bells, all of cable and the Internet -- to be generous, I have a can of worms," he said.

Inouye is a strong supporter of government regulation, , pointing out today that he was the only senator to vote against airline deregulation.

He has had a friendly relationship with the GOP chairmen of Defense and Indian Affairs Committees, so Inouye said he doesn't expect there to be major changes in the committees.

"In some cases it will only be a matter of shifting chairs," he said. "We will continue to work collaboratively."

But, on the issue of Senate appointments, including the Republicans now awaiting Senate confirmation, Inouye was not as encouraging.

He said only one federal appointment, Randall Yoshida, ever contacted him, and he never talked to Honolulu attorney Richard Clifton, who is under consideration for a federal Court of Appeals position.

"All I know is there are two lists, one by (GOP chairwoman) Linda Lingle and one by (state Rep.) Barbara Marumoto. What am I supposed to do, say I prefer Linda's over Barbara's?"

But, he complained that he has been kept out of the loop by the local GOP and the White House.

"I am not that partisan, if they want to be cooperative, then don't treat me like dirt. I don't think they want to do that to the people of Hawaii," he said.

Democrats will soon
control the Senate

The soon-to-be Senate leader says
Bush will have to compromise

By Larry Margasak
Associated Press

WASHINGTON >> In a seismic shift of power, Democrats will gain control of the Senate for the first time since 1994 after Vermont Sen. James Jeffords abandoned the Republican Party and declared himself an independent today.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., who will become majority leader when Jeffords' switch is finalized, immediately called for "principled compromise" between the parties. And he served notice that he intends to use the Democrats' new muscle to force President Bush to tone down parts of his agenda.

"We can't dictate to them, nor can they dictate to us," Daschle said.

The top two items on the Democratic agenda will be completing a bill, now moving through Congress, to revamp education programs, and pressing for new restrictions on health maintenance organizations, he said.

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., the outgoing majority leader, said Senate Republicans remain "unified and committed" to pushing Bush's priorities, including tax and spending cuts, increased defense spending and shoring up Social Security and Medicare.

Republicans will relinquish the majority when Congress sends a final version of its tax-cutting legislation to the president, or on June 5, whichever is later, Lott said.

As for Jeffords, Lott said, "Part of this is just a difference in issues. I understand that and I wish him well."

Jeffords said he found himself increasingly at odds with Bush and Republican leaders on issues from abortion and education to tax cuts. He said it had become difficult in recent months for Bush and other party leaders "to deal with me and for me to deal with them."

"Looking ahead, I can see more and more instances in which I will disagree with the president on fundamental issues," he said.

Bush took issue with Jeffords' assertion that the GOP had become too conservative. "I couldn't disagree more," the president said in Cleveland. "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."

Jeffords' move not only cost Republicans the fragile control they held in the 50-50 Senate but also the ability to move Bush's agenda and judicial nominees through Congress.

Jeffords' announcement sent a wave of jubilation through Senate Democrats.

Republican senators marched somberly into a closed-door meeting -- and political uncertainty. "We need to take some inventory here," said Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, "... and maybe make some adjustments."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a maverick who unsuccessfully fought Bush for the GOP presidential nomination last year, criticized Republicans for intolerance of internal disagreement while treating Jeffords too harshly.

"Tolerance of dissent is the hallmark of a mature party, and it is well past time for the Republican Party to grow up," he said in a written statement.

The impact of Jeffords' switch was unprecedented. Never before has control of the Senate changed parties other than through an election.

Jeffords, 67, said he promised Bush he would delay the switch until after Congress completes work on the tax cut. House and Senate negotiators are working on a compromise that could be approved as early as tomorrow.

In an attempt to keep Jeffords in the party, Lott had promised more money for Jeffords' favored education programs and a waiver of term limits to let him remain chairman of the Education Committee beyond the end of next year.

But Democrats also dangled offers, including chairmanship of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

With Jeffords' move, Democratic proposals on health care, education, the minimum wage and other issues will now move to the forefront in the Senate. Besides Daschle's ascension to the majority leader post, Democrats will take all the committee chairmanships away from Republicans, except for Jeffords as head of Environment and Public Works.

"It's not only just chairmanships. It's staff, the country, the presidency. We're not just talking about a singular moment," said Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, a moderate and close friend of Jeffords.

"This isn't about a single Senate seat," said Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J. "It's about controlling the legislative agenda.

Jeffords says he feels
like a weight has been
lifted from him

By Christopher Graff
Associated Press

BURLINGTON, Vt. >> Sen. James Jeffords bolted the Republican Party and declared himself an independent today. "Increasingly, I find myself in disagreement with my party," he told cheering supporters.

Jeffords, standing in front of a Vermont state flag in a hotel ballroom, made his announcement after a last-ditch effort by Republicans and President Bush to keep him in the fold. His decision will give Democrats control of the U.S. Senate.

"In order to best represent my state of Vermont, my own conscience and principles that I have stood for my whole life, I will leave the Republican Party and become an independent," Jeffords said as his supporters erupted in cheers.

State Republican leaders were furious. "My concern for Jeffords is that his legacy will be as one of Benedict Arnold," said Skip Vallee, the state GOP's national committeeman.

About two dozen people stood outside the hotel on Burlington's Lake Champlain waterfront to greet Jeffords. "Wow! A politician with a conscience," read the hand-lettered sign of one onlooker.

Jeffords said he had been "struggling with a very difficult decision" for several weeks.

The senator said as recently as the November elections he had "no thoughts whatsoever" about changing parties. But he said the Republican takeover of the White House had made it more difficult for GOP members of Congress to take positions at odds with Bush.

"I understand that many people are more conservative than I am and they form the Republican Party. Given the changing nature of the national party, it has become a struggle for our leaders to deal with me and for me to deal with them," he said.

The White House took exception to Jeffords' remarks and pointed to votes yesterday in Congress on the president's education and tax cut proposals as evidence that Bush works with both parties.

Bush "emphatically disagrees with what was said," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

With supporters chanting "Thank you, Jim! Thank you, Jim," Jeffords said he came to his decision with the history of his small state in mind.

"Anyone that knows me knows I love Vermont," Jeffords said. "Vermont has always been known for its independence and social conscience."

Declaring "I feel as if a weight has been lifted from my shoulders," Jeffords said he made his decision last night after meeting with Senate colleagues. "I met with my moderates yesterday. It was the most emotional time I have ever had in my life, with my closest friends urging me not to do what I was about to do because it affected their lives substantially."

Jeffords said he felt unwelcome in a caucus so dominated by conservatives.

"Looking ahead, I can see more and more instances where I'll 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, and a host of other issues, large and small," Jeffords said.

"I think it's unfortunate that the Republican Party has been such a difficult place for moderates," said Barbara Snelling, a state senator and former lieutenant governor. "The party has changed, and now it doesn't seem to be able to live with moderates."

Jeffords, 67, won re-election to a third term last year. Polling shows him to be the state's most popular politician. He has served in elected office in Vermont since the 1960s and in Congress since 1975 -- 14 years in the House, 12 years in the Senate.

Some Republicans called on Jeffords to resign, then run again in a special election without a party banner. "To honorably serve the people of this state, what he should do is resign his seat, allow the governor to appoint an interim, and then fulfill his right to seek election under another party affiliation," said former Rutland Mayor Jeffrey Wennberg. "But let the voters decide."

But interviews yesterday in Jeffords' hometown of Rutland found most people supportive.

"I think the rest of the country is getting a little bit better picture of what it is to be a Vermonter," said John Alexander. "He's voting his conscience. I just wish the rest of the Congress was like that."

Longtime Republican activist and Rutland lawyer Arthur Crowley said he would stick with Jeffords. "I will agree with whatever decision he makes," Crowley said. "He has always represented us well in Washington, and I'm sure he will continue to do so."

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