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Senate GOP regroups after Jeffords defection

By From Dana Bash
CNN Capitol Hill producer

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.

CNN's Jonathan Karl says Democrats are pleased and Republicans critical of U.S. Sen Jim Jeffords, (R) Vermont, leaving the GOP (May 24)

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"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.


IN: Tom Daschle of South Dakota will become majority leader and gain control of the Senate agenda. Democrats get the chairs of every Senate committee, vastly increasing their control of chamber business. Key Democrats are mulling between several possible posts and the committee rosters should clarify in a few days.

OUT: Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi as majority leader, and there are rumblings he may eventually be pushed from a leadership position. Powerful Republicans including Ted Stevens of Alaska (Appropriations), Phil Gramm of Texas (Banking), Pete Domenici of New Mexico (Budget), John McCain of Arizona (Commerce), Jesse Helms of North Carolina (Foreign Relations) and Charles Grassley of Iowa (Finance) all lose their chairmanships. A number of Republican Senate staffers will be demoted or lose their jobs.

BIGGEST ISSUES: The power shift will make it more difficult for President Bush to move legislation. So far, Bush often waited to negotiate with Democrats until other options were exhausted. Now, he may be forced to negotiate in advance, as Democrats have numerous new powers to delay or block bills. Issues likely to be affected include taxes, education, judicial nominations and defense.

"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.

• Republican National Committee
• Democratic National Committee

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