Well, we went out on the limb---and missed it slightly. So, Jeffords
will become an Independent, instead of a Democrat. Since he is going
to caucus with the Democrats, there is no practical difference----all
the points made yesterday in this column still hold: the Democrats
take total control. This means instead of committee staffs being
split 50-50, the Democrats will now control two-thirds of committee
staff positions. One-third of Republican committee staffers in the
Senate are now looking for work.
Kennedy Refuses to Step Aside
Let's Talk Sense... has learned that Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) has refused to allow Jeffords to continue on as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. "F___ Jeffords," Kennedy is reported to have said, "Let him get somebody else's committee. I am not giving up this chairmanship. If Thurmond dies, I get it anyway. To hell with Jeffords. I don't need him." (Again, this quote, attributed to Kennedy, was reported to us. We are not in a position to vouch for its authenticity.)
But the Democrat leadership has had other ideas. And they have apparently decided to muscle out Montana's Max Baucus or some other lesser light amongst their own kind: They have reportedly offered Jeffords the chairmanship of the Environment and Public Works Committee. In reality this is an even bigger plum for the New Englander. Vermont is perhaps the most radically "enviro" of any in the Union.
Looking for Principles? Lotsa Luck!
Ask yourself, "If the the Senate were 52-48 Republican, (let alone 55-45) would Jeffords be switching parties? To ask the question is to answer it. And with that answer goes also the issue of "principle." No amount of rationalizing, story-telling, "being miffed," "Dairy Compact tales," missing-the-teacher-award-ceremony-at-the-White-House," or anything else can get around it.
No matter what Jeffords says at any press conference, or in any speech tomorrow, at the end of each and every sentence, just keep questioning him: "Right, understood, Senator, but if the Senate were 52-48 Republican, would you be switching parties?"
For some people, the circumstances---and the price----just has to be right. They'll end up signing on.
(Like the old saw about the man asking a woman if she'll go to bed with him: She refused. Then he offered her a $100, she refused. Then he asked, "If I gave you a million bucks, would you sleep with me?" She said, "Well, actually I guess I would." He replied, "well, now that we know what business you're in, let's negotiate the price.")
Jeffords' actions are no different. He very much likes being chairman of a committee---it is a god-like position in the US Senate. There is no way under heaven he would switch parties and lose a chairmanship if the Republican Party had a stable, solid majority.
Anyone who buys any of tomorrow's speech (which obviously is going to claim very high motives and downright patriotic causes) is hopelessly naive. This is all about having a member of the Senate in a serious health situation, and a member worrying about losing a committee chairmanship because of it. It is also about the opposition party being willing to give the turncoat what he wants when he shows up.
One last point: There is less reason to switch on "principles" today than there was six years ago. If anything, Republicans in both houses have moved to the center, supporting much higher levels of spending, and caving in on far more issues than would have been thinkable prior to the 1994 takeover. No, it isn't about any principles, just what's in it for Jeffords.
Goes to Vermont for Big Speech
In a state like Vermont, choosing to become an "independent" is actually the most cunningly clever political calculation of all. There is no new ground to break, the trail has already been blazed. Vermont's only House member is an "independent," the former mayor of Burlington, Bernie Sanders. And he has been very popular, winning re-election easily.
Sanders was actually a registered Socialist, and ran for two terms as mayor under the Socialist party label---and was the third Socialist to be elected to the US House of Representatives. But when he joined the Democrat Caucus, they let it be known they preferred to have him call himself an "Independent." You know---for PR purposes and stuff like that. The compliant national media dutifully go along. You almost never hear him referred to as a Socialist.
24-hour Delay Needed
It has also been learned that the Senate banking system requested an emergency 24-hour delay:
They needed time for disbursing to figure out how to pay Jeffords in 30 pieces of silver instead of the normal check to bank.
Clinton might end up Blushing
We look for tomorrow's speech to be a humdinger. We'll be surprised if it doesn't pull out all the stops to make Jeffords sound like the most heroic Vermonter since Ethan Allen. The actual circumstances being as they are, we expect the rationalizations to be so grandiose and so far-reaching that, truth be told, Bill Clinton will actually be blushing while watching it.
Coward's Hat Trick
The fact is, during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Jeffords has scored the coward's hat trick:
Goal 1: It takes no courage to turn your back on your colleagues of 30 years when they are in danger of losing the majority. Sacrifice nothing yourself, make them endure the consequences as you take the majority with you.
Goal 2: It takes no courage to leave if a committee chairmanship is part of the "signing bonus." You sacrifice absolutely nothing by leaving. (He actually is getting a better committee for him.)
Goal 3: It takes no courage to go back home as an independent. Bernie Sanders has already developed the political landscape. The work has already been done. No sacrifice on your part.
Breaux Maybe More Likely than Miller
There is a great deal of speculation about picking off some Democrat to break back to the Republicans. Most of that talk centers on Georgia Junior Senator Zell Miller (nicknamed "Zig Zag" by primary opponent Herman Talmadge in 1980). We think Miller is less likely than others----for the simple reason that he has no ambition. He announced when he agreed to run to finish out the unexpired term of the late Paul Coverdell that he would do just that and then retire. (He served two terms as governor, and many years in Georgia politics.) In short, he just doesn't need anything, and there is little anyone can offer him.
On the other hand, John Breaux of Louisiana has always showed signs of being someone who can be negotiated with. He is famous for a quote following a 1981 White House meeting in which Ronald Reagan reinstated sugar price supports in exchange for Breaux's vote for Reagan's Budget.
"Does that mean your vote is for sale?" he was asked. "No," he replied, "but it is available for rent."
Offered the right deal, Breaux, who is easily the most conservative Democrat on energy and exploration issues, might be willing to switch.
But don't bet on anyone. Just too risky right now.
Oh to be a flower on the wall at the first Senate Republican conference (reportedly there will be one tomorrow) after Jeffords jumps ship. The blame game is the hottest action in town. Could this be the end of the line for the largely ineffectual Trent Lott?
What does this do to the morale of sitting senators whose seats are up in 2002?
Does Phil Gramm really want to keep doing this if he's no longer chair of the Banking Committee?
What about older Republicans up for re-election next year who have just lost their committee chairs?
Ted Stevens, 77, out as Chairman of Appropriations.
John Warner, 74, out as Chairman of Armed Services
Jesse Helms, 79, out as Chairman of Foreign Relations