The Jeffords Defection: The Domino Effect

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Sen. Jeffords announces his resignation from the Republican Party

The aftershocks of Senator James Jeffords’ defection from the GOP are likely to rattle Washington for years. How will his move affect the 2002 congressional elections? Does this shift mean new energy for the Democrats? Or will it reinvigorate conservatives?

In the meantime, though, it's a matter of practicalities. Washington has launched itself into a frenzy of post-pronouncement reshuffling. When Jeffords held his much anticipated press conference Thursday morning to announce he was becoming an independent, the nation’s news media had already rearranged the Senate power structure, ripping committee chairmanships out of GOP hands and placing them into the grips of waiting Democrats.

Here, a run-down of the Senate’s likely new kingpins, and the possible effects of the power switch on legislation:

Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
GOP chair: Richard Lugar, Indiana
Democratic chair: Tom Harkin, Iowa
Effect of change: Goodbye, Hoosiers, hello Hawkeyes; both men from farm states with considerable interest in committee business

GOP chair: Ted Stevens, Alaska
Democratic chair: Robert Byrd, West Virginia
Effect of change: Not much. Expect same jealous guarding of pork projects

Armed Services
GOP chair: John Warner, Virginia
Democratic chair: Carl Levin, Michigan
Effect of change: Levin’s interest in frugality could mean trouble for Bush’s defense budget

Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs
GOP chair: Phil Gramm, Texas
Democratic chair: Paul Sarbanes, Maryland
Effect of change: Sarbanes’ quiet style means less publicity for committee and his distaste for financial mega-institutions could mean fewer mergers

GOP chair: Pete Domenici, New Mexico
Democratic chair: Kent Conrad, North Dakota
Effect of change: Trouble for Bush; Conrad doesn’t share Bush’s budget priorities

Commerce, Science and Transportation
GOP chair: John McCain, Arizona
Democratic chair: Ernest Hollings, South Carolina
Effect of change: Bush may see McCain ouster as a plus, not a minus

Energy and Natural Resources
GOP chair: Frank Murkowski, Alaska
Democratic chair: Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico
Effect of change: Bingaman may force Bush to consider more conservation methods

Environment and Public Works
GOP chair: Robert Smith, New Hampshire
Democratic chair: Harry Reid, Nevada, or James Jeffords, Vermont
Effect of change: This was one of the Democrats’ key bargaining tools with Jeffords, whose environmental stance is far more moderate than ultraconservative Smith’s

GOP chair: Charles Grassley, Iowa
Democratic chair: Max Baucus, Montana
Effect of change: Middle-of-the-road Baucus unlikely to alter Grassley’s course

Foreign Relations
GOP chair: Jesse Helms, North Carolina
Democratic chair: Joseph Biden, Delaware
Effect of change: Where to begin? Biden is no revolutionary, but his moderate-to-liberal policies will stand in stark contrast to Helms’ isolationism

Governmental Affairs
GOP chair: Fred Thompson, Tennessee
Democratic chair: Joseph Lieberman, Connecticut
Effect of change: Committee becomes unofficial Lieberman 2004 headquartes

Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
GOP chair: James Jeffords, Vermont
Democratic chair: Edward Kennedy, Massachusetts
Effect of change: Slim possibility of Jeffords maintaining this chair, although that could be very disruptive; Kennedy would be pushed out, possibly to Judiciary, where he would displace Vermont’s Patrick Leahy.

GOP chair: Richard Shelby, Alabama
Democratic chair: Bob Graham, Florida
Effect of change: Committee takes lower profile

GOP chair: Orrin Hatch, Utah
Democratic chair: Patrick Leahy, Vermont
Effect of change: This is one of the big prizes as judicial nominees come up for Senate approval. Leahy far more likely to strongly challenge Bush picks

Rules and Administration
GOP chair: Mitch McConnell, Kentucky
Democratic chair: Christopher Dodd, Connecticut
Effect of change: Minimal

With reporting by Douglas Waller/Washington