Jeffords, a three-term Senator, had been expected to announce that he would become an independent, effectively giving control of the evenly divided Senate to the Democrats.
After news of the impending change had been widely leaked, Jeffords said today he plans to make an announcement tomorrow in Vermont.
Republicans, facing the loss of their majority and the committee chairmanships that go with it, held out faint hope. “Until it’s final, it’s not final,” said Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.
“This isn’t about a single Senate seat. It’s about controlling the legislative agenda …and it’s about the federal judiciary,” Sen. Bob Torricelli, D-N.J. told reporters. “This is an enormous shift of influence in the federal government.”
The switch would likely elevate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota to the post of majority leader. Democrats would regain committee chairmanships they lost in the 1994 elections.
Several Democratic sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press that Jeffords might defer the effective date of his switch for a short period. That would enable Republicans to push through Bush’s income tax cut, now pending on the Senate floor.
Jeffords, 67, has one of the most liberal voting records of any Republican, often siding with Democrats on the environment, education and abortion rights. He most recently criticized the president’s tax cut as too big and his education spending as too small.
Republicans also said they were redoubling their efforts to persuade Democratic Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia to become a Republican, in hopes of countering any move by Jeffords. Miller has several times crossed party lines to support President Bush’s proposals.
But Miller seemed an unlikely convert. His fellow Georgia senator, Democrat Max Cleland, said Miller had told him he was sticking with the Democrats.
Sen. Lincoln Chafee, a moderate Republican who is frequently the subject of speculation, said during the day he is not following Jeffords’ lead. But asked whether he could say so with complete certainty, he said, “I can’t say absolutely on anything.”