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Candy Crowley: Jeffords' party switch due to conflict with Bush agenda

Candy Crowley
Candy Crowley  


Candy Crowley is CNN's senior political correspondent, based in Washington, D.C.

Q: Why is Jeffords waiting to make his party switch official until after the tax bill goes through?

Crowley: Senator Jeffords said that he promised President Bush that he would not change parties until the tax bill gets to the president's desk. And there's a key reason: The tax bill has to go through a conference committee, which basically means the House and Senate negotiators get together one succinct bill instead of the bill that the House passed and the Senate passed. They have to have one bill to send to the president. Now, who selects those members who sit on the conference committee? The majority party. So if the Democrats became the majority party before the conference bill on the tax issue was done, it would mean that the Democrats could appoint conference committee members and they could put a much larger imprint on the bill in conference committee. As it stands now, under the agreement that Jeffords made with President Bush, it will not switch, which means that Republicans in the Senate and in the House will select who goes to conference committee to work out the final details of the tax bill.

 VIDEO
CNN's Jonathan Karl says Democrats are pleased and Republicans critical of U.S. Sen Jim Jeffords, (R) Vermont, leaving the GOP (May 24)

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CNN analysis of Jeffords' announcement he is becoming an Independent and throwing control of the Senate to the Democratic Party (May 24)

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Jeffords makes his announcement (May 24)

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CNN's Bill Delaney says U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords, (R) Vermont, continues to draw voter support in light of his party change (May 23)

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Jeffords: Pragmatist faces a political decision
 
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Q: What factors led up to Sen. Jeffords' decision to switch parties?

Crowley: Basically Senator Jeffords offered a list of disagreements that he has already had with the Bush White House and those he sees coming down the pike. Essentially he listed the entire Bush agenda, so what you have here is a Republican who is disagreeing with his own president-a Republican president. He mentioned the tax package. Jeffords was fundamental in getting the tax package backed off from Bush's original proposal. He said, 'I look ahead and I see judiciary appointments, tax and spending decisions, missile defense, energy and the environment.' That's the entire Bush agenda, and he believes he will have big disagreements with the Bush White House. It is very difficult as a Republican to go against your own president. It was easier, Senator Jeffords indicated, when Bill Clinton was president, to go along with large measures of the Clinton administration because he wasn't going against his own president. It just became increasingly difficult with President Bush. He found it hard to deal with them and they found it hard to deal with him. He was well outside his comfort zone as far as the agenda was concerned, and he thought it was time to switch.

Q: Is this seen by some as an embarrassment to the president?

Crowley: Certainly. Senator Jeffords said this wasn't anything personal they did to him. This wasn't about slights or their being mean to me. This is about big substantive differences I have with the Bush White House, and it's horrible as a Republican to be going against your own president and being in the spotlight all the time for doing so. Nonetheless, to have one of your own, a moderate, a guy who is known as a maverick who speaks his mind to come out and say, I don't agree with major elements of the Bush agenda, has got to be an embarrassment. And remember George W. Bush is the man who ran saying: I'm a uniter, not a divider. One of his main campaign planks was, 'I will change the tone in Washington, I will work with people, we will get something done' - and what happens? A member of his own party leaves the party because he can't work with him.

Q: What kinds of arguments did fellow Republicans use in an attempt to persuade Jeffords to stay with the party?

Crowley: They used everything from bribery, which the Democrats already did, to political reasons, saying you can better shape the agenda as a Republican because you have a natural in to the White House. Your voice will be heard better rather than as a lone Independent who caucuses with the Democrats. They also offered to let him become a member of a newly appointed chair of the leadership, and that would be of the moderates, and he could lead the Republican moderates. They tried to give him any number of incentives to stay. In the end, the Bush agenda was just outside Jeffords' comfort zone, and he didn't want to have to disagree with the president for the next four years as a member of his own party.

Q: Is Jeffords taking any political risk by defecting? Is it possible the people of Vermont who elected him may not vote for him when he's up for re-election in 2006?

Crowley: Jeffords was just elected last fall of 2000, so first of all, he's got six years, and heaven only knows what subject matter will come up to make a difference between now and then. The next re-election is still a long time away. Add to that the fact Vermont changed beneath Jim Jeffords. He is a life-long Republican. This is a state to which liberal urbanites have migrated. So it has become, in its politics, much more liberal. Jim Jeffords really is aligning himself back with his constituents. This plays probably better in Vermont than any place else.

Will there be Republicans angry with him? You betcha-they're already angry with him. They say they feel betrayed and that they helped him through the primary challenge, but Republicans are not in the majority here when it comes to voting at large. Now they do have a Republican-controlled House, but beyond that, it's a Democratic state and it's hard to image that Jeffords will pay a price.








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