In a late afternoon of May 22, 2001 an apocalyptic-looking set of thunderstorms rolled opposite a National Mall, with bolts of lightning distinguished only outward a Capitol dome. Inside a Senate chamber, an even bigger assign was brewing — James Jeffords, a princely blue-blooded Senator from Vermont, had sensitive Democratic and Republican celebration leaders that he was approaching channel a aisle.
Two days after Jeffords, who died Monday during age 80, would leave a Republican Party that he served in on Capitol Hill for a prior 26 years, initial in a House and afterwards a Senate, and would congress with Democrats. The pierce finished an ancestral five-month run in that a Senate sat unresolved during 50-50 margin, with Vice President Dick Cheney giving Republicans suggested control as a tie-breaking vote. Jeffords was handing Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) a pretension of infancy personality and putting a breaks on a domestic bulletin of a Bush White House.
“Lord,” Don Nickles (R-Okla.), afterwards a Senate infancy whip, shouted as he walked off a building that Tuesday afternoon, looking out during a crackling skies as if to find a embellishment for a assign inside a Capitol. The subsequent night, in an random coincidence, a whole Senate collected for a bipartisan crowd for one of a now-extinct “Leader’s Lecture” series. (The eventuality was one of Gerald Ford’s final large speeches in a Capitol.)
“A few mistake a strife of ideas for a holy war,” a former president, clamp boss and House minority personality told senators, in difference that Jeffords would relate a subsequent morning nonetheless he wasn’t on palm for a Ford debate — instead en track to Burlington to publicly dump his bombshell.
It was one of those unaccompanied singular moments when one lawmaker, with one vote, truly focussed a arc of politics in a opposite direction. It also served to prominence a argument between a still-dominant regressive wing and a increasingly marginalized assuage coterie of a Republican Party. “Given a changing inlet of a inhabitant party, it has turn a onslaught for a leaders to understanding with me and for me to understanding with them,” Jeffords pronounced in Burlington.
The whole episode, from a indicate during that electorate left a Senate during 50-50 until Jeffords’ switch, also serves as a beam post to what could occur should November’s midterm elections leave a Senate likewise deadlocked.
Back in May 2001, there was no amicable media, wire news focused some-more on automobile chases than Congress, and via that pre-9/11 summer a republic was gripped by shark attacks, a debate surrounding a true age of a Little League pitcher (Danny Almonte!) and Gary Condit’s event with a murdered intern. The many critical half hour of domestic radio came each weekday during 4 p.m., when CNN’s afterwards chronicle of “Inside Politics” would run, with Judy Woodruff as a common host. With a congressional stating group of Jonathan Karl (now ABC News’ White House correspondent) and Dana Bash (back during a congressional kick for CNN a past few years), they pennyless a news that Jeffords was withdrawal a GOP and dogmatic himself an eccentric while caucusing with Democrats. The changed followed weeks of rave about his augmenting argument with President George W. Bush and his comparison staff.
Many congressmen had switched parties before Jeffords and many would switch parties after, though no one in Senate story had sloping a change of energy by walking opposite a aisle. The switch was months, if not years, in a making, given a assuage character of GOP politics in New England, where a Bush family had a strange roots, contra a Texas-style conservatism adopted by a latest era of Bushes.
On Election Day 2000, Republicans entered with a 54-46 corner in a Senate, though faced a terrible map — incumbents adult for re-election in a series of states that Vice President Al Gore would better Bush in: Minnesota, Washington, Delaware and Michigan. All 4 lost, and after a shakeout in a few other states, including an epic Missouri competition in that a passed administrator degraded obligatory John Ashcroft (R) and was transposed by his widow, Daschle had reached 50 seats in his congress and entered into negotiations with Trent Lott (R-Miss.), a Republican leader.
After days of talks, a dual leaders emerged with a devise that would leave a chairmen’s gavels in a hands of Republicans, including Jeffords, who was authority of what is now called a Health, Education, Labor, Pension Committee. Staff income and bureau space were separate 50-50, with some non-partisan executive beyond costs technically underneath a chairmen’s control. Special manners would concede for presumably Lott or Daschle to place legislation or presidential nominees on a building if committees, also separate uniformly in terms of membership, had a tie vote.
In a new interview, Lott recounted that his Republican chairmen were so mad with a understanding that they scarcely forced him into resigning as GOP personality during a moving assembly during a Library of Congress. Finally, Lott recalled, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) stood adult and rallied his associate Senate Republicans around a devise as a best they could presumably wish for given a 50-50 separate in a chamber.
Almost immediately Democrats began maneuvering to find a Republican who would switch sides and give them full control, with Harry Reid (D-Nev.), afterwards a minority whip, personification a pivotal role. Jeffords was one of 3 senators targeted, along with Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), who was afterwards a Republican though would after follow Jeffords’ lead, initial apropos an eccentric and winning his state’s governorship. Another aim in those days was Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who notwithstanding a really regressive voting record to that indicate exited a 2000 presidential primary opposite Bush with a clever hate opposite a president.
Jeffords became a focal indicate of Reid’s efforts during a tax-and-budget conflict in a open of 2001, as a distance of Bush’s initial taxation cut kept flourishing and flourishing in a Republican-dominated House. Jeffords wanted to rein in a distance of a taxation cut while also securing appropriation for special education. Then-Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), a comparison member of Jeffords’ committee, began operative with Jeffords, vouchsafing him know that if Democrats were in charge, some-more supports would upsurge to his adored programs.
He sided with Democrats on a pivotal amendment that knocked $450 billion off a distance of a taxation cut, promulgation some-more income to preparation programs, and according to an Associated Press comment during a time, signaled he was prepared to make a leap. Reid began actively courting Jeffords in private huddles.
One pivotal adhering point: a chairman’s gavel. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), a longtime ranking member of HELP, was his party’s heading orator on domestic issues and no one approaching him to step aside as authority if Jeffords switched caucuses. Nor did Kennedy offer. At a time, Reid served as ranking member of a Environment and Public Works Committee, a pivotal roost though one that, if Democrats hold a majority, he would not have most time for given he would be using building operations for Daschcle.
As a final carrot for Jeffords, Reid gave adult his tip mark on a cabinet and Jeffords became authority once he rigourously switched caucuses in Jun — a arrange of pierce that, in today’s overly heightened narrow-minded tension, would be simply impossible.
There was a last-ditch bid to keep Jeffords by a other 4 assuage Republicans — Chafee and Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine) and Arlen Specter (Pa.) — though it failed.
“I feel as if a weight has been carried from my shoulders,” Jeffords, who late in 2006, told supporters in Burlington.