Senate switch leaves Reid with new clout
U.S. Sen. James Jeffords’ move away from the Republican party Thursday has essentially put a state across the continent on the map, insiders note.
The stunning switch by Jeffords to become a member of the Independent Party will give U.S. Sen. Harry Reid – who made several national media appearances that day – a quick No. 2 slot in the Senate as Majority Whip.
As of 88 years ago Monday, Senate Democrats created the post of party whip to promote party discipline and maximum attendance, the U.S. Senate Historical Office reported. Illinois Sen. J. Hamilton Lewis was appointed as the Senate’s first whip.
“It makes it a lot easier now to fight the fight,” Reid’s spokesman David Cherry said.
Reid will serve under Tom Daschle, the upcoming Majority Leader from South Dakota.
“(Thursday’s) announcement is not about which party controls the Senate,” Reid stated, listing a domestic agenda ranging from education to the environment.
Jeffords is thought to have gained a chairmanship on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in the defection, a stunt for which U.S. Sen. John Ensign criticized his Nevada counterpart.
“Nevadans don’t care about who’s in control of what. They want to see senators working together to make things work better,” the Democratic Whip said. “All members of Congress come to Washington to work on behalf of the people who sent us here. As the Senate Majority Whip, I will be able to serve the needs of Nevadans, regardless of whether they are Republicans, Democrats or independents.”
Reid commended Jeffords for what he’s deemed an act of courage.
“Senator Jeffords and I share a frustration with the partisanship that often plagues Congress,” he said.
While introducing a water resources bill that same day, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein told reporters during a press conference that she’s never seen such a partisan place as Washington, D.C.
Feinstein, who served for 20 years in public office prior to going to the nation’s Capitol, including the Mayor of San Francisco, said she understands what it’s like to face that kind of impasse.
“This morning in his statement he said the party moved too far to the right and that he feels he can no longer identify with the Republican party,” she said, adding her utmost respect for what appears to be a difficult decision.
“Jim Jeffords has always been a man with soft words and a stiff spine. I take him at his word. He doesn’t lie,” he said.
Reaction in the South Lake Tahoe community was mixed at the news.
“When I first heard (Wednesday), I thought isn’t this great because (Vice President Dick) Cheney doesn’t have the tie-breaking vote now,” Bob Jackson of Tahoe Paradise said.
The shift in the Senate will amount to 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and one independent.
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