Local News

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

Posted May 25, 2001 6:44 a.m. EDT

— Members of North Carolina's congressional delegation say they hope Vermont Sen. James Jeffords' move to abandon the GOP results in more bipartisan cooperation in Washington.

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

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

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

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

"I hope Jim Jeffords leaving the Republican party and giving Democrats control of the Senate will be the end of the 'take it or leave it' style of governing we have seen from the president and the Republican leadership in Congress," said Price, a Chapel Hill Democrat. "This change may spawn some of the genuine bipartisanship President Bush has talked about but hasn't practiced."

Rep. Bob Etheridge, a Lillington Democrat, said he admired Jeffords for his commitment to public education and that he applauded him for making "a decision of conscience consistent with his principles and convictions."

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

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

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

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

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