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Breaking Ranks

Breaking RanksThe political landscape in Washington could be changed significantly by the historic decision of a Vermont Senator. Washington.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [05.24.01] This morning, Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords officially left the Republican Party, effectively handing control of the United States Senate to Democrats and turning he political landscape in the nation's Capitol on its head. By announcing his decision to become an Independent, Jeffords initiated the first-ever change of power in the Senate not caused by an election.

While the announcement will have a distinct place in political history, its immediate impact on the White House and Congress remains unclear.

"In terms of broad public policy, which is the bottom line, it doesn't make much difference," Tufts' Jeffrey Berry told USA Today.

Even though the Tufts political science professor predicts that Jeffords' decision won't dramatically change the nature of the Senate's public policy agenda, he told USA Today that Democrats will get a bump from the announcement.

"This really invigorates the [Democratic] Party," Berry told the newspaper. "This gives them a lot of leverage."

Specifically, Jeffords' move breaks the 50-50 tie in the Senate and gives Democrats control of the committee chairmanships. Senator Tom Daschle will replace Trent Lott as Senate majority leader as well.

That could pose new challenges for George Bush's policy initiatives down the line.

"It will make for tougher times for President Bush's Supreme Court nominees," Berry told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

But the Tufts expert doesn't expect the shift in power to cause extensive congressional gridlock.

According to the Seattle Times, Berry "cited the success that Republican Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan had in dealing with Democrats."

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