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N.C. Lawmakers Say Jeffords' Move Could Lead to More Bipartisanship

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RALEIGH — Members of North Carolina's congressionaldelegation say they hope Vermont Sen. James Jeffords' move toabandon the GOP results in more bipartisan cooperation inWashington.

At a news conference on Thursday, 67-year-old Jeffords said hewas leaving the Republican Party to become an independent. The moveended the Senate's 50-50 division and gave Democrats control forthe first time since 1994.

But U.S. Rep. Richard Burr, a Winston-Salem Republican, said theslight Democratic edge won't mean dramatic changes in the Senate.

"Some may perceive that the shift in leadership causes a hugemomentum change in the Senate's agenda. It doesn't," Burr said."It's about the votes, not about who has control. I am confidentthat the votes on most issues in the Senate will be the sametomorrow as they are today."

Rep. David Price said the move will force President Bush to workmore closely with Democrats.

"I hope Jim Jeffords leaving the Republican party and givingDemocrats control of the Senate will be the end of the 'take it orleave it' style of governing we have seen from the president andthe Republican leadership in Congress," said Price, a Chapel HillDemocrat. "This change may spawn some of the genuinebipartisanship President Bush has talked about but hasn'tpracticed."

Rep. Bob Etheridge, a Lillington Democrat, said he admiredJeffords for his commitment to public education and that heapplauded him for making "a decision of conscience consistent withhis principles and convictions."

"I hope and believe that his example will serve to improve thetone in Washington and increase the opportunities for bipartisancooperation on our national priorities," Etheridge said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jesse Helms' tenure as chairman of the SenateForeign Relations Committee was in jeopardy after Jeffords'announcement. Along with all other GOP committee chairmen, Helmslikely would lose his job as head of the foreign relationscommittee.

Helms, R-N.C., has used the post since 1995 to promote hisconservative views on China, Cuba and aspects of U.S. militarypolicy.

North Carolina's Democratic senator, John Edwards, is not inline to take over any committees. But the first-term lawmaker couldbenefit in his battle for moderate judges on the 4th Circuit Courtof Appeals in Richmond, Va.

Democrats would take control of the Senate Judiciary Committeeand gain the ability to block President Bush's judicial choices.