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Jim Jeffords Officially Jumps Ship

Aired May 24, 2001 - 16:04   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: So who was it that lost Jim Jeffords? Well, for a stunned Republican Party, today it's finger-pointing time. Today it is official, the GOP losing its Senate majority because Vermont's Jim Jeffords got fed up and just quit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JIM JEFFORDS (I), VERMONT: Increasingly, I find myself in disagreement with my party. 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHEN: Jeffords says he promised President Bush he wouldn't make the switch until after the president's tax cut bill reaches the White House. That could happen very soon, and when it does, Jeffords will become an independent and control of the Senate will switch over to the Democrats. So we begin this hour with Candy Crowley, who is our senior political correspondent. She's in Jeffords' home state of Vermont. She was in Burlington today when Mr. Jeffords made his sort of anticlimactic announcement, Candy. We did expect it to come this morning, and he did do as expected.

We're going to listen to a couple of segments of what he said, and maybe you can provide a little insight on those things. The first is about the impact of his decision -- he's certainly aware of it -- on the Bush agenda. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFFORDS: In the past, without on the presidency, the various wings of the Republican Party in Congress have had some freedom to argue an influence, and ultimately to shape the party's agenda. The election of President Bush changed that dramatically.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHEN: Changed that dramatically, and he certainly understands what he's doing to it. Candy, talk to us about that impact on his decision.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: About the impact of having the Senate change over to Democratic leadership, he said: Look, what used to weigh heavily on my shoulders now weighs heavily on my heart. I understand that that upsets my staff, that this upsets long-time friends. He mentioned in particular, though not by name, Senator Chuck Grassley, who has long wanted to be chairman of the finance committee when Senator Bill Roth was defeated. It now goes to Grassley. He's not, obviously, going to be the chairman much longer. So he understands that this has made life very difficult for some friends.

But he says, you know, at the heart of it, I think I did the right thing. I hope they forgive me.

CHEN: Yes, let's listen to that, in fact. He was talking about that, but as you say, he does not refer to Grassley by name. Let's listen to that comment that Mr. Jeffords made earlier in the day. He talked about -- explained a little bit about why he had something of a last-minute delay in announcing his decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFFORDS: I met with the moderates yesterday. And it was the most emotional time that I have ever had in my life, with my closest friends urging me not to do what I was going to do, because it affected their lives, and very substantially. I know, for instance, the chairman of the finance committee has dreamed all his life of being chairman. He is chairman about a couple of weeks, and now he will be no longer the chairman. All the way down the line, I could see the anguish and the disappointment as I talked.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHEN: Candy, has he also talked in Burlington about the impact of this on the voters of his home state, and what it's going to mean to them that he's made the switch?

CROWLEY: Sure, and the answer generally comes back: not much. Look, clearly the Republicans here who last year raised money for him, put out leaflet's for him -- he got a substantial victory, as he has in the past. They feel, in the words of one, "betrayed."

But largely, this is a state that's been affected by urbanites who have moved into Vermont looking for green mountains, blue waters, and bringing their liberal politics with them. The word they love most is "independent," so their at-large Congressman is an independent. So this will sit very well. In fact, this is really Jeffords getting in line with his voters -- Joie.

CHEN: CNN's senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, for us in Burlington, Vermont today.

So when the Jeffords switch is final, Senate will look like this: 49 Republicans, 50 Democrats, plus Jeffords, the resident independent. To the Democrats go the spoils of course. They will control the committees and the flow of legislation through them. Democratic Tom Daschle will become the majority leader.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: I think it's important that we all recognize the value of compromise, the urgency of compromise, the real practicality of compromise. We can't dictate to them, nor can they dictate to us. This must be bipartisan -- or tripartisan spirit, or it can't be achieved.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MAJORITY LEADER: It will make it more difficult in the Senate to advance the president's agenda. But in the Senate, you can get a president's agenda considered. Just like if you're in the minority and the other party has the White House, you can offer your issues, because any issue can be brought up -- a bill or an amendment. We've learned that from the Democrats, and we did it ourselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHEN: Also on the subject of Jeffords' defection, Republican John McCain popped out of the foxhole he's been in. A little bit quiet from him today. Today, though, he let loose a verbal barrage.

Here's this: "Tolerance of dissent is the hallmark of a mature party, and it is well past time for the Republican Party to grow up."

The words of John McCain today. Some Republicans say the blame for Jeffords jumping ship lies at the door of the White House. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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