Skip to main content /transcript


The Departure of Senator Jim Jeffords

Aired May 24, 2001 - 12:30   ET


ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Let's go up to Capitol Hill and join Senator Tom Daschle.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: Good afternoon, everyone.

As you know, Senator Jeffords has now decided to make "independent" not just his hallmark, but his official party designation as well.

For 26 years in Congress, Senator Jeffords has been an independent voice for the people of Vermont and a champion for the environment, for education and children, especially children of special needs.

His passion for these issues and his courage in seeking bipartisan consensus on them has earned him great respect on both sides of the aisle. We know that he will continue that work, and it is clear that he will continue to enjoy that abiding respect.

Senator Jeffords' decision obviously produces some changes. The historic 50-50 Senate now becomes history itself. This will be America's first 50-49-1 Senate.

What does not change with this new balance of power is the need for principled compromise. This is still one of the most closely divided Senates in all of our history. We still face the same challenges. Bipartisan, or I guess I should now say tripartisanship, is still a requirement.

With his eloquent words this morning, Senator Jeffords spoke for many members of this Senate. This Senate will be called upon to resolve fundamental questions about education, about energy, the environment, about choice, possibly about the future of the Supreme Court, and many other issues.

The American people have different and passionate opinions on all of these questions. They deserve a Senate in which their opinions can be honestly expressed and openly debated through their elected representatives.

We haven't had enough of that sort of debate lately. We hope and trust that Senator Jeffords' courageous decision will advance that spirit. If it does, both parties will benefit from Senator Jeffords' move. More importantly, the American people will benefit.

We had a trial run as the majority party back in January. During those 17 days, we held hearings and expedited the confirmation of President Bush's Cabinet choices.

Some of the president's nominations, like many of the issues that we deal with in the Senate, were controversial, but we conducted the hearings efficiently, and I believe fairly. As long as we are in the majority, we intend to govern in that same spirit.

One of the first things that I did after I was elected Democratic leader more than six years ago was to go home to South Dakota and call on an old friend, a farmer who was deeply involved in serving his community. His name was Dick Reiners (ph). I asked Dick on a cold December day what advice he had for me in my new job.

He told me two things. First, he said, "Never forget where you came from, remember the land that made you who you are." And secondly, and now pointing to his grandchildren on the kitchen wall, he said, "Give them hope. Give them hope."

Dick Reiners (ph) passed away that very evening. That was the last advice he ever gave me. It was the best advice I could ever have.

For more than six years, I have attempted to follow Dick's advice, and I will continue to do so as the Senate majority leader.

I believe in the most heartfelt way that I can express today that we can make this closely divided Senate work for the American people. My colleagues in leadership, Senator Reid and Senator Mikulski, and all of my caucus who have now just met, are determined to work with the president, with Senator Lott, and with every member of this body -- Democrat, Republican and independent -- to see that it does.

DASCHLE: I'll take a few questions.

QUESTION: Senator, when you become the majority leader, life won't exactly be a bowl of cherries. It will be a lot sweeter, no doubt. But the Republicans can still make your life difficult, as you on occasion have made their lives difficult. Do you expect them to use some of the same tactics that you've used to try to get their way, as you did to get your way?

DASCHLE: I think it's too early to talk about my expectations. I will simply say that the tone that I've attempted to create, I believe will hopefully help set an environment within which we can get things done.

We know that we have a divided government -- Republicans in the White House and now Democrats leading the Senate, Republicans in the House. The only way we can accomplish our agenda, the only way that the administration will be able to accomplish their agenda, is if we truly work together in now, I guess, what we would call a tripartisan manner. And that's my intention.

QUESTION: Senator, would you expect President Bush now to soften his thorough-going conservative agenda?

DASCHLE: Well, I will leave his decisions to the president. Obviously, I stand ready to work with him. I intend to make a call to the president this afternoon in the hope that I can reach out and express my hope that we can work closely together on issues for which there is agreement, resolve those differences in those areas for which there is not.

QUESTION: As Senate majority leader, which changes do you expect, if any, when you revisit the education bill?

DASCHLE: I think it's too early to talk about specific legislative approaches at this point. It will be my expectation when we come back, assuming that we will be in the majority, beginning the work period upon the conclusion of the Memorial Day recess, to complete the education bill.

DASCHLE: Obviously, we will be unable to complete it this week. But my sincere hope is that we will complete it as soon as we get back.

QUESTION: Do you think that President Bush is now going to have to compromise with you more than he has done in the past?

DASCHLE: Well, I think it's important that we all recognize the value of compromise, the urgency of compromise, and the real practicality of compromise. We can't dictate to them, nor can they dictate to us. This must be bipartisan or tripartisan spirit, or it can't be achieved.


QUESTION: Are there any items that you would like to see on the agenda now that you have this control (OFF-MIKE)?

DASCHLE: Well, we will certainly talk a lot more about our agenda as soon as we come back. Again, as I said, my expectation is that the first important issue to be taken up will be education. We'll complete that bill.

The second bill will be the Patients' Bill of Rights.

QUESTION: You've already criticized the budget resolution as a, quote, "nuclear bomb," and on virtually every issue on the Bush agenda, you've ticked off a variety of criticisms while you were in the minority. As the majority now, don't you have an obligation to try to moderate that Bush agenda?

DASCHLE: Well, we have always had an obligation to do what we think is right. That's what we've done in the past, and we're going to continue to do so. Now, I think we have more tools at our disposal to ensure that that happens.

QUESTION: Senator Daschle, will Senator Jeffords be offered a committee chairmanship? And, if so, which?

DASCHLE: We're not in a position to talk about committee chairmanships. Obviously, as most of you know, the power-sharing organizational resolution will be null and void with this decision. Senator Lott and I will have to negotiate a new organizational resolution. And it would be my hope and expectation that we will do that in the coming days.

QUESTION: How important is it to take care of your membership?

QUESTION: ... campaign finance reform, is that a top priority for you?

DASCHLE: Campaign finance reform has always been a top priority, and it would be my hope and, again, my expectation that we could finish campaign finance reform this year.

Senator Lott had already indicated that he will send the campaign finance reform bill to the House. Obviously, if it hasn't been done when I become majority leader, that will be one of the first things I do.



DASCHLE: We were just given a report by some of the members of the Finance Committee. They are beginning negotiations again this afternoon, as I understand it, at 2 o'clock.

I have expressed the hope that we can continue these negotiations fruitfully. I have no desire to bring some artificial or expeditious close to these discussions. We should stay here as long as it takes to get a good bill.

I don't know how long that will take. I have no desire to leave, necessarily, until we finish our work.

Thank you all very much.

COSSACK: That was Senator Tom Daschle speaking from Capitol Hill.

Let's go to Candy, our own Candy Crowley, now for some reaction.

Candy, they talked about the first hundred days of George Bush. That did turn out to be the honeymoon, didn't it.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It did turn out to be the honeymoon. What interests me about what we just heard from Senator Daschle is there really has been for these 100-plus days some argument within the Democratic Party between the more liberal element that really believes that their strength is in opposing what comes down the pike from Pennsylvania Avenue. There have been others that say, "We've got to get something done here. We can't oppose everything because we look like the nay sayers, and that'll backfire." So it's a difference between those who want to appeal to the party base and say, "No, no, no, no, no, no," and those who want to, you know, continue to reach into the middle of America for votes and say, "Let's -- let's moderate and get something done."

Certainly, I would say that the tone of today's speech just now by Senator Daschle is one of, "OK, let's work and get something done." We'll see in the days ahead how that actually pans out.

COSSACK: Yeah, that interested me, too, Candy, because you certainly had that feeling that this was not someone who was gloating over what happened, but also recognizes the fact that, you know, "We still have to be very conciliatory. It isn't, like, you know, we're 10 runs ahead. We're maybe one person ahead."

CROWLEY: Well, sure. And look, the practical matter right now is that the votes really haven't changed. Jeffords is going to vote no differently now that he's an independent than he did when he was a Republican. So we're still talking about a Senate that can be cherry- picked on either side around any other bill. So everybody's got to be careful. And also, you don't want to come out on a day like today and at least be see gloating in public.

COSSACK: OK, Candy. Let's take a break.

How will Senator Jeffords's departure from the Republican Party impact the federal bench and the Supreme Court? Stay with us. Let's find out about that.


Reverend Al Sharpton was sentenced to 90 days in jail on Wednesday for trespassing on U.S. Navy property while protesting against bombing exercises on Vieques Island. Johnnie Cochran and a team of lawyers plan to file an appeal.



COSSACK: Welcome back to BURDEN OF PROOF. We're talking about the impact that the leaving of Senator Jeffords will have on at least the federal bench, the United States Supreme Court and other legal matters.

And joining us to discuss those issues from Capitol Hill is Congressman Anthony Weiner, a Democrat from New York, Congressman Howard Coble, a Republican from New York -- excuse me, from North Carolina. Excuse me, Congressman.


COSSACK: And also from Chicago, law professor Steve Lubet.

Let's go right to you, Congressman Weiner. First of all, you just heard Senator Daschle speak. Your reactions to what he had to say?

REP. ANTHONY DAVID WEINER (D), NEW YORK: Well, it's going to be a dramatic change in this town in who controls the momentum, who controls the agenda. I think you're going to see immediate changes on the Judiciary Committee. I think the role of the American Bar Association will be restored.

They've already canceled two confirmation hearings. I think Ted Olson's confirmation is now in serious question. I think Senator Jeffords will be much more at home in the Democratic Caucus, but more importantly, I think the American people are going to get what they really want, which is a closely divided government with checks and balances on both sides of Capitol Hill.

COSSACK: Well, Congressman Coble, talk about checks and balances on both sides of the Hill, now you have what some are referring to as sort of a tripartisan effect. You have a Democratic Senate. You have a House that is still being led by the Republicans, and a presidency that is led by the Republicans. What impact will Senator Jeffords make -- leaving make in terms of the relationships between the House and the Senate?

COBLE: Well, Roger, in an effort to be humorous last night, I said Senator Jeffords is going to change parties tomorrow. He's going to become a Republican. I said that, of course, with tongue in cheek.

I don't know that it's going to result in much of an impact as far as the way he votes. Jim Jeffords is pretty much his own man, and I think his voting pattern probably won't change that much. But the fact that he changed his affiliation will have an obvious impact upon the Congress.

Now, I've seen many party switches since I've been in the Congress, but none has had the impact that Jeffords's switch will have -- chairmanships shifting. It's going to be -- it's going to impact the Congress significantly.

COSSACK: And what about the ability for the House and the Senate to be able to work together? I mean, obviously, it was much better when you had a Republican Senate and a Republican House. Now that's gone.

COBLE: Well, I believe we'll still be able to do it. Since we assumed our role in the wheelhouse of the ship in '95, Roger, pardon my modesty, but I think we've governed very well. And we've had some help from our Democrat friends. We've had Welfare reform. We've had capital gains tax reduction. We've removed the earnings cap that adversely affected working seniors. We corrected the marriage penalty. We're going to get rid of the estate tax. These things have been done under our leadership, with some Democrat help. And I don't see that that is going to change drastically.

COSSACK: Congressman Weiner, some of the issues that the -- your fellow congressman has just ticked off are not necessarily those that would be on the Democratic agenda, though. You suddenly find yourself now in a position in the Senate where the Senate is -- where your party is going to have the power. And as we all know, at the end, when they have these -- these times when the Senate and the House have to get together and work out a bill, it's not going to be coming from just one side. It's going to be coming from two sides. How is that going to affect legislation?

WEINER: It's extraordinary important. I mean, the fact of the matter is that we're controlling the agenda in the Senate. And one of the things that Senator Jeffords has great interest in is the environment. He has been in stark contrast to the -- the previous head of his party, George Bush. I think it's going to change the debate enormously.

It's also going to empower Democrats on both sides of Capitol Hill. We are no longer bit players in this drama. Every vote is going to be needed to put together bipartisan bills. And I think that's going to be good for the American people, as well. They're fundamentally a middle-of-the-road population, and I think now that truly, with the Senate in the Democratic hands, we are a legislature that I think's going to represent them.

COSSACK: All right. We've talked a little bit about what's going to happen with legislation, about how both sides are going to have to be able to, I suppose, work together even more. When we come back, let's talk about some of the nominations that may be up there already or maybe -- maybe even to the Supreme Court.

Stay with us.


COSSACK: Welcome back. We've been talking about what the fall- out's going to be from the defection by Senator Jim Jeffords from the Republican Party to become an independent. Let's now talk about what some of the judicial and legal fall-out will be.

Steve Lubet, what about -- what -- who can we expect to be nominated to the Supreme Court that we wouldn't have seen before, or even to the federal benches?

STEVE LUBET, LAW PROFESSOR: Well, what you'll see is that any nominee to the federal bench will have to get through the Judiciary Committee, which is going to have a majority of Democrats. That means that there will be a real trend toward moderation. Extreme right-wing conservative ideologues probably won't get through. I think you can count out Antonin Scalia as Chief Justice if Chief Justice Rehnquist resigns, maybe looking at someone more like Anthony Kennedy for the Chief Justice.

COSSACK: Will the procedures as to how -- how judges are nominated or how -- how they actually get on the bench -- will they -- will that change at all?

LUBET: Two things are going to change. One is, of course, the Judiciary Committee has to approve a candidate before the nomination goes to the floor. And that means that the majority of Democrats will have to approve every nominee. And there's also what they call the "blue slip" process, which means that a senator from the home state of a nominee can put a hold on that nomination. It will never go to hearing, and it will never be called.

Now, when the Republicans were in control, it seemed like they weren't going to extend that privilege to the Democrats. Now that the Democrats are in control, Democratic senators will be able to blue- slip candidates and have lots of influence that way.

COSSACK: So this -- this Jeffords defection will have a major impact on the form and the future of the judiciary in America.

LUBET: It's a sea change in the way that nominees are going to be approved by this Senate and this president.

COSSACK: All right, let's go back to Candy for a while.

Candy, looking awfully good there in Vermont, with the -- looks like the beautiful water behind you. Candy, listen, what about a -- what about legislation? Is this going to affect what legislation is even brought up?

CROWLEY: It does affect what legislation is brought up. It -- again, it doesn't change the votes because Jeffords is going to vote like he always did, and there's -- and Tom Daschle, you know, said, "Look, this is still a 50-49-1 Senate." So that's -- there's not a lot of margin for error. But look, when you're the majority in the Senate, Senate chairmen have extraordinary powers. They're very powerful people. They can decide what legislation to bring up.

For instance, you've already had apparently Ted Kennedy saying, "Well, I want to deal with the patients' bill of rights when I become chairman. That'll be my next thing I want to deal with." It may be that the White House doesn't want to deal with that right now, but that's what the chairman wants up there, and that's what he puts out. You know, that's what he hands over to the majority leader, now a Democrat, so...

COSSACK: So the...

CROWLEY: ... yes, it has a -- it has a huge effect on what goes onto the floor. It does not have necessarily a huge effect on how it's voted once it's on the floor.

COSSACK: All right, but what gets there and when it gets there, it has a huge effect.

CROWLEY: Absolutely.

COSSACK: All right, let's go back now to Congressman Coble.

Congressman Coble, you've heard Steve Lubet say earlier, he said that perhaps we are not going to see that kind of conservatism -- or conservative nominees be put forward for the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary because of this one change in the Senate. Do you agree with that? COBLE: Well, let me say this first about the Judiciary Committee, Roger. Anthony and I each sit on the House Judiciary Committee, and we sit on the subcommittee, of course, Internet and Intellectual Property. And we deal consistently with the Senate Judiciary Committee. I have enjoyed good rapport with Chairman Hatch. I have enjoyed good rapport with the ranking member, then ranking member Senator Pat Leahy, who will, of course, become the chairman. So I don't think that that's going to be a drastic change the way we have done business at the committee level.

COSSACK: All right, let me go now to Congressman Weiner in our few seconds left.

Congressman Weiner, do you think that we're going to see a different type of nominee from George Bush than we would have before this change?

WEINER: If the president is smart we will. I mean, he's not going to want to have bloody fights that lead to nowhere, so I think he's going to nominate more moderate, middle-of-the-road judges, and I think the country will be at a better place for it. I mean, it's going to change in so many ways. We're going to see prescription drug coverage debated earlier than the Republicans wanted. Things like the minimum wage are going to be forced onto the president. He's going to have to learn to play -- to play with the Democrats nicely or not get a lot done.

COSSACK: All right, I'm afraid that's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests, and thank you for watching.

Join us again tomorrow for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

Back to the top