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Chafee might depart GOP if party retakes Senate

Sen. Lincoln Chafee  

By CNN's Dana Bash and Kate Snow

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Moderate Rhode Island Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee says if Republicans took back the majority in the Senate, he would consider leaving the party -- tipping the balance back to the Democrats.

He would do so, he said, if his Republican colleagues continue to use the tactics that he says drove Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords from the GOP.

Although Chafee said leaving the Republican party is "extremely unlikely," he left the door open to the possibility, as long as the GOP continues with "our wheels in the partisan ruts."

"The only time there's any interest in switching is once they're (Republicans are)back in power."

Chafee said if it would stop them from getting the majority, then he would "consider it" under certain circumstances.

The Rhode Island senator said he is disappointed Jeffords' defection did not change the partisan tone from his party leaders.

"I do have some concern that after Senator Jeffords left the party that the reasons that he left aren't sinking in," said Chafee. "It's still early but a little bit of concern still that the message wasn't heard."

"The rhetoric seems to be the same. [Bush adviser] Karl Rove came off early in the process and said nothing's going to change, and we believe in our agenda, slipping back into a confrontational pursuit of passing bills."

Chafee said his Republican colleagues have to realize there are moderate Republicans in the country who want their like-minded representatives to have a voice.

"I have a long history with the Republican party, you go through ups and downs in anything you're involved with but I'd like to see us moderate on some of the issues."

Chafee was invited to the White House last week for a one-on-one meeting with President Bush, but called the brief visit a "get to know you session" more than a substantive discussion about the direction of the GOP agenda.

"It's a start and a very preliminary start of getting to know each other. In twenty minutes we're not going to talk about a lot of issues that haven't already been beaten like a mule. It was more a chance to get to know each other," said Chafee.

Aside from the meeting with Bush, Chafee noted "the phone has stopped ringing" from his GOP colleagues making sure he is staying in the party.

• Sen. Lincoln Chafee

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