Magazine article Insight on the News

Republican Caucus Has Hitched Its Wagon to the Wrong Elephant

Magazine article Insight on the News

Republican Caucus Has Hitched Its Wagon to the Wrong Elephant

Article excerpt

Back at the first of the year, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi negotiated a power-sharing agreement with the Democrats. It took the form of a resolution that the entire Senate had to ratify. The resolution was to cover the entire 107th Congress, unless one of the parties obtained majority status, defined as achieving 51 votes. In that event, the resolution would be nullified and Congress would organize itself along traditional lines.

The Democrats were only too happy to get this deal. It gave them parity on all committees and an even number of staffers, never mind that the Republicans were in full legal control of the Senate, thanks to the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Dick Cheney.

Now comes Jim Jeffords of Vermont and his departure from the Republican Party. But he has not become a Democrat. He has become an Independent. Thus, the Democrats have not achieved the 51 votes specified in the agreement. Accordingly, the power-sharing resolution Lott negotiated legally still is in effect.

That point was raised by Senate GOP Whip Don Nickles of Oklahoma, whose immediate reaction to the Jeffords switch was to fight to keep the status quo. He believed a deal was a deal. He pointed out that a united GOP could filibuster any change in the rules and that is what the Republican Caucus should do.

Not so, said Lott. He immediately conceded. "We will have an orderly transition" were the first words out of his mouth. He has no stomach for a confrontation with the Democrats. No doubt he fears they would charge that Lott stole this election the way many still claim George W. Bush stole the presidential election.

So who did the Republican Caucus rally around? Nickles, who proposed fighting for what was justly theirs, or Lott, who waved the white flag as high as he could? Why, Lott of course. If they fought for their rights and stirred up the grassroots, even if they lost in the end, they might have a fighting chance to regain lost ground in 2002. But when the rank and file see the party leadership giving up, they see no reason to carry on the fight in the trenches.

And what lesson did Lott and company learn from the Jeffords departure? Exactly the lesson that turncoat Jeffords wished upon his former colleagues. …

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