Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott yesterday agreed to the demand of liberal Republicans to create a leadership position for them in the wake of Sen. James M. Jeffords' power-shifting defection.
The first such senator to get a seat at the Republican leadership's weekly strategy session is Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, who participated in a meeting yesterday and pushed for a patients' bill of rights.
"I'd be glad to have Arlen because I have a good working relationship with Arlen," said Mr. Lott, Mississippi Republican. "There may be others."
Senate Democratic leaders met yesterday to plot their legislative strategy when they take control of the chamber as early as June 5. Their first bill after the Memorial Day recess will be a patients' bill of rights.
Yet the power shift to the Democrats may be delayed by disagreements with Republicans over the makeup of Senate committees. Republican leadership aides said committee ratios are their major concern, and they will demand Democrats obtain only one additional seat. In the 50-50 Senate since January, committee seats were equally divided between the two parties.
"There is a resolve not to agree to a bad deal, and there is no reason to rush into anything," said one Republican aide. "We have lots of time to make sure minority rights in the Senate are protected."
Meanwhile, Mr. Jeffords, who caused these changes by announcing on Thursday that he is quitting the Republican Party, was accompanied by two plainclothes Capitol Police officers on his rounds yesterday. A uniformed officer also was stationed outside his Senate office. Capitol police gave no explanation for the increased security.
"We don't discuss protective operations for individual members," said Lt. Dan Nichols of the U.S. Capitol police.
But another police source said the decision to add security for a member of Congress is usually prompted by a threat. A spokesman for Mr. Jeffords did not return phone calls.
The Vermont senator did not talk to reporters, but issued a statement pleading with people to stop "the spinning" about his motives for becoming an independent. He said his decision was based on principles, not promises by Democratic leaders.
"My decision . . . was not based on aspirations for something else," Mr. Jeffords said. "In my conversations with the Democratic leadership over the past two weeks, a lot of possibilities have been discussed, but nothing has been or will be final until the Senate acts" to change control to the Democrats.
Democratic sources have said party leaders offered Mr. Jeffords the chairmanship of the Environment and Public Works Committee and to let him keep his seat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which he currently chairs.
Republican members of the Senate's Centrist Coalition pressed Mr. Lott yesterday to add a leadership position for their ranks. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, a leader of the Centrist Coalition, held up at the meeting a recent dispatch in The Washington Times describing such senators as "weak sisters" of the Republican Party to point out the attitude of some conservatives in the party toward them.
Mrs. Snowe and three other liberal Republicans, Sens. …