Senator Jim Jeffords Leaves GOP, Handing Senate to Democrats

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NBC Nightly News
Tom Brokaw/Lisa Myers
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NBCUniversal Media, LLC.
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Senator Jim Jeffords announces he's quitting the Republican Party to become an Independent because the GOP no longer stands for tolerance and moderation. The party switch effectively hands control of the Senate to Democrats, and deals President George W. Bush a major political setback.



"Senator Jim Jeffords Leaves GOP, Handing Senate to Democrats." Lisa Myers, correspondent. NBC Nightly News. NBCUniversal Media. 24 May 2001. NBC Learn. Web. 11 January 2020.


Myers, L. (Reporter), & Brokaw, T. (Anchor). (2001, May 24). Senator Jim Jeffords Leaves GOP, Handing Senate to Democrats. [Television series episode]. NBC Nightly News. Retrieved from


"Senator Jim Jeffords Leaves GOP, Handing Senate to Democrats" NBC Nightly News, New York, NY: NBC Universal, 05/24/2001. Accessed Sat Jan 11 2020 from NBC Learn:


Senator Jim Jeffords Leaves GOP, Handing Senate to Democrats

TOM BROKAW, anchor:

Good evening. By now you probably know what happened today. A Republican Senator left his party and formally aligned himself with the Democrats. But what about the future? The consequences could be profound. The Democrats will have control of the Senate. They'll also have control of the powerful committees, the legislative agenda in that half of Congress. This is a major setback for President Bush and his plans. The Senator, James Jeffords of Vermont, said he was leaving as a matter of principle.

Senator JAMES JEFFORDS: In order to best represent my state of Vermont, my own conscience and principles I have stood for my whole life, I will leave the Republican Party and become an Independent.

BROKAW: We begin our coverage tonight with the aftershocks of Senator Jeffords's decision, the latest unexpected shift in the political landscape during this long political season. NBC's Lisa Myers on Capitol Hill tonight. Lisa:

LISA MYERS, reporting:

Tom, the aftershocks are just beginning to reverberate. Jeffords hands the Democrats keys to the Senate and the power to block the President's agenda at will. Republican disbelief turns to frustration and anger.

Sen. JEFFORDS: Wow! The Vermont press bureau has really grown since I've been away.

MYERS: Suggesting the Republican Party no longer stands for tolerance and moderation, Jeffords today says he leaves with a heavy heart.

Sen. JEFFORDS: 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. Looking ahead, I can see more and more instances where I will disagree with the President.

MYERS: The President immediately rejects the notion that his agenda is too conservative.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I respect Senator Jeffords, but I respectfully--but respectfully, I couldn't disagree more.

MYERS: Among Senate Republicans, a public show of unity designed to mask private frustration. Moderates worry the party is off track. Senior members about to lose chairmanships are furious. Maverick John McCain blames GOP leaders, says, "It's well past time for the Republican Party to grow up."

Senator DON NICKLES: A lot of people are very kind of shell-shocked.

MYERS: The man about to become the most powerful figure in Congress, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, calls for principled compromise.

Senator TOM DASCHLE: We can't dictate to them, nor can they dictate to us.

MYERS: Under the deal, Daschle officially takes over June 5th if Congress has given final approval to the President's $1.3 trillion tax cut. Today, Bush asks Congress not to leave for the holiday weekend until it sends him that bill.

And Bush got good news today on his other top priority: education. Daschle says passing an education bill will be his first order of business. But Republicans say Bush better relish those victories, because there may not be many more.

Some Republicans say the impact on the President's agenda could be devastating. Is that an overstatement?

Senator THAD COCHRAN: I don't think it is an overstatement at all.

MYERS: Privately, Democrats says Bush's plans for private Social Security accounts and a missile defense system are doomed. Democrats will quickly push their own agenda, giving patients new rights in dealing with HMOs, increasing the minimum wage and expensive prescription drug benefits for seniors.

Now this new reality will test the President's promise to be a ‘uniter’ and not a divider. Bush and the Democrats each have the ability to checkmate each other, but only by working together can they get anything done.