Jeffords’ defection effectively gives control of the Senate to the Democrats. It breaks the 50-50 split, leaving the Senate with 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and one independent. Jeffords says he will caucus with Democrats.
The three-term senator said he had struggled for several weeks over the decision.
“In order to best represent my state of Vermont, my own conscience and principals that I have stood for my whole life, I will leave the Republican Party and become an independent,” Jeffords told applauding supporters at a Burlington, Vt., hotel.
Jeffords, who has one of the most liberal voting records of any Republican, explained that Republican control of the White House had made it difficult for GOP members of Congress to oppose President Bush. He said there are people more conservative than he forming the Republican Party and “given the changing nature of the national party, it has become a struggle for out leaders to deal with me and for me to deal with them.”
Jeffords also said he envisioned “more and more instances in which I will disagree with the president on fundamental issues.”
Jeffords’ switch returns control of the Senate to the Democrats for the first time since 1994. It is the first time in the nation’s history that control of the Senate has switched by means other than an election.
Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota will likely be elevated to the post of majority leader. Democrats would regain committee chairmanships and Republicans would lose the ability to move President Bush’s agenda through Congress and ratify his judicial nominees.
Jeffords, however, said he promised President Bush that his move will not be effective until Congress sends the president a tax cut measure. The Senate approved a $1.35 trillion cut over 11 years on Wednesday, and a compromise between the Senate and House versions could be approved by Friday.