June 1, 2001

The Jeffords Switch — What Will It Mean?

"Few things have shaken Capitol Hill as much as the decision by Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords to switch his party affiliation from Republican to Independent," reacted HSLDA lobbyist Doug Domenech. "People feel cheated and the potential threats to our freedom are real."

The most immediate impact of Jeffords's decision to leave the Republican Party and support Democrat Thomas A. Daschle for Senate majority leader means all 20 Senate committees will get new chairmen. In many cases, the differences in leadership will be stark. On the Foreign Relations Committee, for example, avowed internationalist Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-DE) is expected to replace Jesse Helms (R-NC), a strident opponent of U.S. involvement in the United Nations and other international governing bodies. (See the list of likely committee chairmen at the end of this article.)

Rich Galan, a long-time Washington political observer, noted that when then-Representative Phil Gramm left the Democratic Party in the 1980's, he resigned from Congress, created a vacancy, ran as a Republican for the seat he had just vacated, and won again. "Jim Jeffords did the opposite," said Galan. "He ran for the Senate as a Republican this past November and then switched parties after he had safely attained a committee chairmanship, taken just under a million dollars in business PAC money, accepted nearly $50,000 from PACs associated with Republican organizations and the PACs REPUBLICAN House and Senate leadership, and taken cash from the National Republican Senatorial Committee."

"Jim Jeffords should return the $17,500 he accepted from the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He took the money fraudulently by running as a Republican," said Rich Galan of Mullings.com.

Make no mistake: The Jeffords loss will hurt at least when it comes to confirming judges. But it may also provide some hidden opportunities.

"At least the obnoxious Strom Thurmond deathwatch may finally come to a welcome end," said the editors of National Review Online who see a silver-lining for Republicans in the defection, "Now [the Republicans] have a clear enemy. In politics, enemies can be useful, especially when your ‘friends' are people like Jeffords."

This turn of events may also make it more likely that Bush will veto bad legislation coming out of Congress, such as spending bills. Last week, it would have been tough for him to explain why he's against what a "Republican Congress" had just approved. Next week, he can blame those liberals in the Senate.

According to Congressional Quarterly, Senate Republicans do not intend to go quietly into the minority. While acknowledging they will become the minority party in the Senate next week, GOP senators are preparing to play hardball during negotiations over a new organizing resolution for the remainder of the 107th Congress.

"There are a good number of Republican senators who would like to see a whole host of issues addressed before they will agree to an organizing resolution," said Ron Bonjean, spokesman for Majority Leader Trent Lott (MS) in the Washington Post. Republicans want a guarantee that Democrats will not be able to block President Bush's nominations in committee—a promise Democrats are unlikely to make. The transfer of power is expected to occur at the close of business on Tuesday, when James M. Jeffords abandons the GOP and becomes an independent who will caucus with Democrats. Lott has appointed five senators to negotiate with Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (SD) to ensure, as Bonjean put it, that rank-and-file members "have a full investment" in whatever deal is struck.

When Jeffords' defection becomes official next week, Senate committee chairmen and ranking Democrats will switch jobs and committee rosters will revert to those in place at the end of the 106th Congress—minus those senators who retired or lost their re-election bids. Unless a new organizing resolution is adopted, Republicans will have a numerical majority on nine of the 16 standing committees, plus the Indian Affairs and Select Intelligence panels. Six standing committees will have evenly split rosters, and only the Veterans Affairs panel will have a Democratic majority. A GOP leadership aide said this scenario has emboldened Republican senators. "It's in the Democrats' best interests to work with the Republicans," said Bonjean.

Daschle kicked off negotiations over a new organizing resolution with a simple proposal that includes one-seat Democratic majorities on committees but ignores GOP calls for a mechanism to make sure the Senate acts on President Bush's judicial nominations.

Lott has not yet responded. Republican aides have raised the possibility of filibustering a new resolution unless they are assured Bush's nominees will not be bottled up in committee.

Likely New Senate Committee Chairmen

Barring last-minute jockeying over assignments, these 11 Democrats and one Independent will wield the gavels on some of the Senate's most powerful panels.

Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT), 61, replaces Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT) as chairman.
Leahy is among the Senate's most liberal members on a range of issues.

A key issue of concern for home schoolers is judicial nominations. Leahy's record suggests that he would be expected to give conservative judicial nominees a hard time.

Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), 69, replaces Jeffords as chairman.
Kennedy is a hero to liberals and a major irritant to conservatives.

Key issues of concern for home schoolers would be Kennedy's record on expanding federal control over education. Oddly enough, however, many people have felt that Kennedy is actually more conservative than Jeffords on education. The good news is that, with the departure of Jeffords from the committee, conservative Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) becomes the minority leader.

Kennedy's committee also handles all major social policy issues.

Foreign Relations
Joseph R. Biden, Jr., (D-DE), 58, replaces Jesse Helms (R-NC) as chairman.

Biden is considered a serious student of foreign affairs.

Key issues for concern for home schoolers would be his treatment of certain United Nation treaties. Senator Helms has been a strong ally is the fight against UN expansion and has personally kept the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child from Senate consideration.

HSLDA spoke with Helms staff after the Jeffords decision and confirmed that the treaty, while signed by President Clinton's Secretary of State, has never been sent to the Senate. President Bush has confirmed that he is opposed to the treaty.

Max Baucus (D-MT), 59, replaces Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) as chariman.

Baucus is considered a moderate.

Grassley has been a good friend to HSLDA and was instrumental several years ago in our efforts to pass the Parental Rights Restoration Act. The powerful Finance Committee controls tax-cut legislation.

Robert C. Byrd (D-WV), 83, replaces Ted Stevens (R-AK) as chairman.

Byrd enjoys a reputation as both Senate historian and champion pork-procurer for West Virginia. He now has control of spending priorities.

Byrd also takes Strom Thurmond's (R-SC) place as Senate president pro tempore, third in the line of presidential succession.

Armed Services
Carl M. Levin (D-MI), 66, replaces John W. Warner (R-VA) as chairman.

Regarded as pro-defense, Levin generally opposes expensive weapon systems. He opposes Bush's plan to deploy a national anti-ballistic missile defense system.

Commerce, Science and Transportation
Ernest F. Hollings (D-SC), 79, replaces John McCain (R-AZ) as chairman.

Hollings has served in the Senate since 1966 and was co-author of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings bill that helped contain budget deficits during the 1980s. As a senator from a textile state, he has fought trade liberalization.

Tom Harkin (D-IA), 61, replaces Richard G. Lugar (R-IN) as chairman.

Harkin is a reliable liberal and supports most core Democratic positions, champions the causes of organized labor and midwestern farmers, and has been a leading foe of GOP efforts to end federal farm subsidies.

Environment and Public Works
James M. Jeffords (I-VT), 67, replaces Robert C. Smith (R-NH) as chairman.

Harry M. Reid (NV), the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, stepped aside as part of the deal to woo Jeffords. Jeffords was the most liberal Senator in the Republican caucus prior to his switch.

Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs
Paul S. Sarbanes (D-MD), 68, replaces Phil Gramm (R-TX) as chairman.

Sarbanes, a career politician, is considered one of the more liberal senators. He replaces one of the most conservative senators.

Governmental Affairs
Joseph I. Lieberman (D-CN), 59, replaces Fred D. Thompson (R-TN) as chairman.

The moderate Lieberman, an orthodox Jew, is a prominent member of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council and has been outspoken on moral issues, criticizing sex and violence in movies and on television.

Energy and Natural Resources
Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), 57, replaces Frank H. Murkowski (R-AK) as chairman.

Bingaman has a generally moderate voting record and is regarded as a conciliator.