Senate GOP regroups after Jeffords defection
By From Dana Bash
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senate Republicans are regrouping after the departure of Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords from their party, as they face a new political landscape that makes them the minority party in the chamber.
"A lot of people are very kind of shell-shocked at the change. This is a major change, and it has significant ramifications for a lot of individuals," said the No. 2 Senate Republican, Don Nickles of Oklahoma.
Moderate and mainstream Republicans aired their grievances during a two-hour caucus Thursday, blaming the GOP leadership for not listening to Jeffords and the rest of them or taking their positions seriously.
"Just because we have different views that doesn't mean that we lack principles," said Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.
Moderate Republicans once again raised the issue of having one of their own at in the leadership, comprised of senators from the conservative wing of the party.
"We need to ensure that our voice is heard in the process because obviously we do have different views and we cant always accept fait d' accompli positions when they clearly don't reflect the view of our constituents," Snowe said.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, said the Republicans have done nothing to get more in touch with what Americans want, especially in key states where Republicans lost seats in November.
"We really have to face up to the fact that we lost some key seats and there really hasn't been an evaluation of that since the election. This was a very loud wake-up call and I think the caucus was awakened," said Specter.
Other senators said while they were disappointed, there was little they could do if Jeffords simply did not believe in the same things most Republicans espouse.
But other saw it as a lesson to look beyond a single political battle.
"I'm disappointed but I watched the speech, and I think he's doing it because of a matter of principle and as disappointed as I am I got to say I can understand we get so caught up in the day to day politics of things and struggle to serve politics we forget sometimes people take stands like this," Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tennessee.
There was immediate buzz around the halls of the capitol about whether current Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, or any of his leadership colleagues would be challenged.
One Republican said a challenge was unlikely to come from the left, not necessarily because there was not a will, but "it won't happen because plain and simple there are not the votes."
Others speculated that Lott could be challenged from the right of the party from some who thought he gave too much to Jeffords to no avail.
"We thought Trent went far, or further then he should have to accommodate Jeffords and mainstreamers. His problem is with the conservatives who dominate the caucus, not the moderates," said one conservative Republican senator.
But most Senate Republicans said at this point, the feeling is the caucus will simply close ranks and move forward until the 2002 elections.
"We've had enough change for now," said Snowe.
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