JIM LEHRER: Now some analysis of all of this from Tom Oliphant of The Boston Globe, Rich Lowry of the National Review, Norm Ornstein, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and Jennifer Duffy, Senate analyst for the Cook Political Report.
Tom, it's never over until it's over. What's the level of doubt that this is going to happen tomorrow?
TOM OLIPHANT: One chance in 50 wouldn't do it. He got a last-minute offer from the Republicans that he agreed to at least take with him overnight. But one in 50 feels about right because he would have to change what he's already told other Senators and friends in Vermont.
JIM LEHRER: Anything to add our subtract on that, Rich?
RICH LOWRY: I think that's basically right. There's a slim chance he might say tomorrow I'm leaving the Republicans but I haven't made up my mind yet on whether I'll vote for Daschle or not. But I think that's very unlikely. And as Tom points out he would look a little bit like a fool if he were to change his mind at this point.
JIM LEHRER: Jennifer.
JENNIFER DUFFY: I don't think he'd bother going to Vermont if he was going to change his mind. It would be a lot easier to do it in Washington. I think he wants to be surrounded by supporters when he does it. I think there's very little chance he changes his mind.
JIM LEHRER: Norm.
NORM ORNSTEIN: One in 50.
JIM LEHRER: One in 50. Okay. All right. Why? Why is he doing this? Is it ideology? Is it all this so-called snubs? What's the problem here?
TOM OLIPHANT: In terms of what he'll say tomorrow, what he's planned to say from what I can find out about it, anyway, is that the easiest part for him is going to be to issue a kind of long narrative of estrangement -- one moderate Republican's journey away from the party, not only of his birth but his dad's and before that. He will not dwell all that much on the recent events that we keep bringing up. I think....
JIM LEHRER: The schoolteacher thing and the things that Kwame just reported.
TOM OLIPHANT: This is somebody who gradually felt as if his party didn't want him and had no place for his particular brand of politics. Where I think he will also, however, fall short tomorrow is on the national implications of his decision. They're obviously enormous. And while I think Senator Jeffords is able to talk about what's happened to him, I think he faces a very big hurdle tomorrow in explaining why he would do something whose national impact is going to be so large.
JIM LEHRER: You mean the impact on the Senate.
TOM OLIPHANT: Exactly.
JIM LEHRER: Rich, is Jim Jeffords right if he in fact says formally tomorrow, I am not at home in the Republican Party anymore, ideologically?
RICH LOWRY: Yeah, I think he would be right to say that. He's a liberal. And if you're a liberal you'll no longer be comfortable in the Republican party. If he is going to lay out a narrative of estrangement it should start basically back in 1972. He's had a difficult relationship with the national Republican party and even the Vermont Republican Party for a long time. But I also don't think we should discount the element of calculation here. Jim Jeffords may be a mild mannered guy but he's still a politician. There are a couple of things to say about this. One, for at least a week John McCain will no longer be the most talked about Senate maverick. It is going to be Jim Jeffords. He gets a lot of attention from this and gets a lot of leverage. Also, you know, if something were to happen to Strom Thurmond before Jeffords had made this switch, Jeffords would have been left in the cold, the same as all the other Republican committee chairmen would have been. This way....
JIM LEHRER: We'd have had the same result.
RICH LOWRY: Sure. The Republicans would go into the minority and Jeffords would be a ranking minority member like everyone else. Now he is guaranteed not just a burst of attention; he is guaranteed a committee chairmanship. It's a pretty good deal for him.
JIM LEHRER: A pretty good deal for him? Should that be -- I mean realistically that's what we're talking about here too, right? Rich is right, is he not?
JENNIFER DUFFY: Sure. I mean it's a very good deal for him politically. I mean, there's no fallout for him back home. There will be little fallout for him in the Senate. Politically it is a good deal. Perhaps it is well calculated. But it still changes the way the Senate will do business and it may not be as easy as Jeffords thinks.
JIM LEHRER: What do you mean?
JENNIFER DUFFY: It is going to... it is still going to be hard for Democrats to do everything that they would like to do. They have a very long agenda to put through. They do have control of the floor. But they also can't be perceived suddenly as the party that stone walls.
JIM LEHRER: Norm, where does Jim Jeffords stand on the liberalism chart? Start with Democrats and give us a feel for where he is. Forget the party here for a moment. Just ideologically based on what he's voted on, what he's said.
NORMAN ORNSTEIN: He's actually center-left.
JIM LEHRER: Who is to his left?
NORM ORNSTEIN: You have in... On the Republican side in the Senate you really don't have anybody to his left except for perhaps Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, who has been another target of the wrath of the conservatives.
JIM LEHRER: He's in his first term.
NORM ORNSTEIN: And he's in his first term. You certainly have a cluster of about seven or eight mostly northeast Republicans who are very much the center. If you look, for example, at the voting scores that groups come up with, the Americans for Democratic Action, the Americans for Conservative Action, he's right around 50 on all of those scores. He's been actually reasonably fiscally conservative compared, say, to most of the Democrats. Let me say, Jim, I disagree with Rich in this sense. I know Jeffords pretty well and have over the years. This is not a guy who, as some other party switchers have, starts out calculating what's going to be best for him. This is somebody who is a fourth generation Republican. Now, he may view the world differently from the prevailing wisdom of Republicans in 2001 or even in 1992. But that meant a lot to him. It was almost a religious identification. This is close to leaving his religion now. And he was provoked into it more than anything else.
JIM LEHRER: You think he was?
NORM ORNSTEIN: I absolutely do.
JIM LEHRER: By the president and the Republicans?
NORM ORNSTEIN: By a lot of others. To be perfectly frank with you, it may have started with the NewsHour's own Paul Gigot who wrote a column several weeks ago basically saying, let's slap this....
JIM LEHRER: In The Wall Street Journal.
NORM ORNSTEIN: In The Wall Street Journal. Let's slap this guy down to size, show him that you can't behave this way, hit him with the New England Dairy Compact. Now, the parallel to what the hubris present in the Clinton administration in 1993 did with then Democrat Richard Shelby of Alabama is stunning where they also wanted to take a guy who they viewed as an apostate who wasn't going to vote with him on the key issues -- don't they know a Democrat in the White House -- and did some of the same things and he left his party. He also had a standing improve in his own home state. The White House was a part of this. Republican leaders provided him no protection or support. They didn't seem to recognize that it was 50-50 and that they got seven or eight moderates who wouldn't win their seats if they behaved as Idaho Republicans did -- and plenty of outsiders who, to his face, basically dissed him. So I think this is a long process but it was encouraged along by behavior in a hubristic White House.
JIM LEHRER: Rich?
RICH LOWRY: Yeah. Well, the same way you can't argue with success, it's hard to defend failure. And there's no doubt that this is a failure and a major blow. There are two schools of thoughts.
JIM LEHRER: Who failed?
RICH LOWRY: The White House and the Senate leadership. If you talk to people on the Hill today, most of them are complaining about the White House, saying that losing the Senate is a big deal and sure you want to rap Jeffords on the wrist but you should have a better sense of whether he's going to run crying off to Tom Daschle if you do that. Someone apparently made the wrong calculation. Not so much… recriminations haven't been directed so much at Trent Lott so far because, as we saw in the run-up to the segment he had a pretty good relationship with Jim Jeffords. You know, there's no doubt about it. This is a huge victory for Tom Daschle. And from the beginning of this year, Trent Lott, he was dealt a difficult hand, but we have seen his power slowly ebb, first when Daschle forced him into cutting a deal organizing the Senate that was very advantageous for Democrats, that had the Republican caucus very upset. Then the debate over the campaign finance bill where Lott in effect he lost control of the Senate floor and tomorrow when he'll probably lose his majority altogether.
JIM LEHRER: Jennifer, where do you come down on this question of who lost Jim Jeffords?
JENNIFER DUFFY: Well, I come down somewhere in the middle. I think that it was a process that was building, but I think that the White House has to take a good deal of responsibility for really overplaying their hand. They seem to forget that the United States Senate is not the Texas state legislature. You cannot bully, you know, members of your own party in the Senate. They are individuals. They have their own power bases. It doesn't... it just doesn't work. They have to take some responsibility. I also... I have to say I think Lott has to take some responsibility too. This is his Senate caucus and he should be able to... He could have and should have been able to step in the middle and worked out some sort of deal or at least told the White House that they've gone a little bit too far and to start to back off.
JIM LEHRER: Tom, coming back to your first point, that all of this said, Jim Jeffords still has a difficult explaining job as to why all of these things happened to him and yet here's a life-long Republican, he's making this move and suddenly the politics or the power in Washington goes catty wampus.
TOM OLIPHANT: If there's one weakness in... inside of all Yankee Republicans, it's an inability to speak in the broader context. And I'm sure that Senator Jeffords is aware tonight of the earthquake he's causing. But what I suspect is he's going to have trouble dealing with it when he speaks tomorrow. Maybe one window on what happened might be the last offer he got from not so much Lott directly as a bunch of his moderate buddies led by Arlen Specter who talked with him this morning, and it was we will bring you in. There will be a moderate seat at the Republican leadership table. You will be the leader of the moderates. Now, to Senator Jeffords, who as I said earlier, has gone through this long process of estrangement that didn't begin with Bush's inauguration by any means, this is a kind of confirmation of what he's been feeling for the last several years. And the last-minute nature of it -- we will take you in; you will be a part of our governance of the Senate -- strikes me as a perfect metaphor for how he has seen his party and its treatment of northeastern Republicans over the last few years. It even goes beyond ideology I think. The perception of the Senate's job that a person like Jeffords has that it's almost like a town meeting or a non-partisan county commission, people who sit around trying to do things, work things out....
JIM LEHRER: It's okay to disagree.
TOM OLIPHANT: Yeah. That's part of life. And that instead -- and he may speak for a lot more people in the Senate than just himself. There's this feeling, it's beyond Democrat and Republican, what, why is this war going on all the time? Why are these interest groups all over us? Why can't we do it better?
JIM LEHRER: Does that ring true to you, Norm?
NORM ORNSTEIN: Absolutely does. Remember that Vermont has a tradition of quirky independent moderate to liberal Republicans. George Aiken, Bob Stafford -- he fits in with that tradition.
JIM LEHRER: Remind us of who those two people are.
NORM ORNSTEIN: George Aiken who served for a very long time who is known now mostly because his theory for ending the Vietnam War was let's declare victory and get out. But who was a longstanding important member of the Senate as a Republican right up into the 1980s. Bob Stafford, who has the same political traditions as Jim Jeffords and in many ways was his mentor who served right up through the... into the 1980s as well. Vermont has elected Republicans, they're moderates. Now these are not people, Jim, who are outside the party in its long traditions. In fact they were the tradition of the party for a long time but now it's moved.
JIM LEHRER: That's what I want to ask Rich Lowry. If the control of the Senate was not at stake, would most conservative Republicans say good riddance Jim Jeffords, you're not a Republican get out of here?
RICH LOWRY: Absolutely. Something I was surprised by in talking to people on the Hill today, there is a good riddance caucus among Senate Republicans on this that think it will clarify things and that they're tired of sort of having responsibility for running the Senate without having real control. As someone, high-level staffer, told me this afternoon, it's better to throw grenades than catch them. They feel the last five months or so they've been catching grenades. That may be happy talk. But there is definitely a part of the Republican caucus that is glad to see him go and that's why I think Lott is not going to end up taking much blame for this because the people... the person they are going to blame is Jim Jeffords.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Jennifer, gentlemen, thank you.