Ensign: Nevada worse off with Democrats controlling Senate
RENO, Nev. (AP) – Sen. Harry Reid’s new clout in the U.S. Senate is a ”silver lining” for Nevada, but overall the state will be worse off with Democrats in control, Republican Sen. John Ensign said Thursday.
Ensign disagreed with those who say Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords’ defection from the GOP was a sign the party has become too conservative. He said it had more to do with Jeffords’ ”liberal” leanings, comparing Jeffords to Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.
Ensign said his Democratic rival Reid deserved much of the credit for luring Jeffords away, offering to step aside so Jeffords could assume chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Jeffords’ defection cost Republicans control of the Senate and put Democrats in the majority for the first time since 1994.
”I think Harry deserves a lot of kudos for his party. He was smart enough to get this thing done,” said Ensign, who lost a 1998 Senate race to Reid before winning an open seat in Nevada last year.
”One thing I’ve learned about Harry Reid in the last six months, he knows how to get things done behind the scenes. He’s very effective and he had a lot of insight here,” he said.
Ensign said Reid’s ascension to assistant majority leader will strengthen the state’s ability to fight off a nuclear waste dump proposed for Yucca Mountain and to protect betting on NCAA games in Nevada casinos.
But in a teleconference with reporters the freshman senator acknowledged he was disappointed in Jeffords’ defection.
”I think overall, having Republicans in charge is better for Nevada, just overall economic policies and the like,” he said.
”The silver lining here has to be Harry Reid’s new position…. (He) was already a very powerful man in his position as assistant minority leader. His power just goes up that much more.”
Another indirect benefit might be the resulting removal of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., as chairman of the Commerce Committee, where he was poised to push his proposed college betting ban bill.
”Certainly not having John McCain as chairman … hurts his chances of being able to do something with the NCAA bill,” Ensign said.
Ensign cautioned, however, the overall change in majority power ”is not as dramatic as what people think.”
Senate rules provide significant rights to minority members, who are allowed to introduce most any kind of amendment to most any kind of bill, he said.
McCain, a maverick who unsuccessfully fought Bush for the GOP presidential nomination last year, is among those who criticized Republicans for intolerance of internal disagreement while treating Jeffords too harshly.
”Tolerance of dissent is the hallmark of a mature party, and it is well past time for the Republican Party to grow up,” McCain said.
Former Democratic Sen. Richard Bryan of Nevada, entered the Senate the same year as Jeffords and knew him well, serving two terms with him before retiring last year.
”It is a tidal wave change that has occurred in Washington within the Republican Party in which congressional Republicans are much further to the right than the people of the Republican Party,” he said.
”Jeffords, I think, has been victimized by that dramatic shift,” he said.
Ensign said the lesson is to ”include everybody in the process, whether liberal or moderate Republican or conservative Republican.”
But he said the critics were over reacting.
”Jim Jeffords has been a Democrat for a long time. He just had a Republican label,” Ensign said.
”Actually it would be even difficult to describe him as a moderate. He is more of a liberal, more along the Ted Kennedy lines,” he said.
Roll Call magazine quoted sources in Thursday’s edition saying Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., dispatched Reid as an envoy to coax Jeffords and other moderate GOPs to the other side.
Reid has refused comment on his involvement with Jeffords. But a Senate aide familiar with Reid’s role told The Associated Press on Thursday that the Democrats’ tolerance of internal dissent was appealing to Jeffords.
”Senator Jeffords really appreciated the way Senator Reid was reaching out to him. It stood in stark contrast to his own folks,” said the Democratic aide speaking on condition of anonymity.
”How the Senate Democratic caucus has been handling their members when they had disagreements stood in stark contrast to how the Republican caucus has been working,” the aide said.
Reid was ”not overbearing. He was able to have a light touch and let Senator Jeffords know what the various options were but not coerce,” the aide said.
”I think the bottom line was respect. He felt respect for Senator Reid and I don’t think he felt that respect in his own party.”
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