The White House and Republicans across the nation were shocked when two-term Vermont Sen. James Jeffords announced that he was leaving the Republican Party to become an independent. The historic switch, officially declared by Jeffords on May 24th, gave control of an evenly split Senate to the Democrats for the first time since 1995. Other moderate Republicans warned that the Bush administration's hard right agenda might trigger more defections in the near future.
Since the swearing in of George W. Bush as president Jan. 20th, the Republicans had enjoyed control of the legislative and executive branches of government -- a GOP lock on power not seen time since the Eisenhower administration. With the Democrats now in control of Senate committees, political observers say it will be more difficult for Mr. Bush to push through controversial conservative judicial nominees. But Democrats will not have an easy time challenging the Bush program, as they too are divided along ideological lines -- a fact made clear by the 12 Democratic Senators who recently voted with the GOP in support of the Bush tax cut legislation, the largest giveaway to the rich since the Reagan era.
Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with The Nation magazine's The Online Beat columnist John Nichols, who looks at the power shift in the U.S. Senate and how these changes could affect the future direction of U.S. politics. This interview segment available in downloadable MP3 and RealAudio on radio newsmagazine Between The Lines' website www.btlonline.org for week ending 6/8/01.