History-Altering Decisions

#10

Jeffords Switches Parties (2001)

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Jeffords (far left) on Capitol Hill, days before joining the Dems

Jeffords (far left) on Capitol Hill, days before joining the Dems

After George W. Bush’s controversial victory in 2000, Republicans controlled all of the federal government for the first time in 40 years. Conservatives expected to speed an ambitious agenda through Congress. Sen. Jim Jeffords’s defection from the Republican to Democratic party allowed us to put on the brakes. It remade Washington’s political landscape and shifted the balance of power to the Democrats in the U.S. Senate without a national election for the first time in history. I had a new title—majority leader of the United States Senate—and so did many of my senior colleagues, as people changed chairs in each of the Senate committees. As a result of our new Democratic majority, however slim, we were able to block or slow down the president’s policies and force moderation on everything from education reform to tax policy. But by far the biggest impact came on 9/11, when the American people witnessed a Republican president, Republican speaker and Democratic Senate majority leader jointly responded to a major national crisis. Legislatively, a bipartisan consensus was required and successfully reached on a wide range of bills from intelligence gathering to providing assistance to the thousands of victims and their families to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Jim Jeffords was a hero to many of us eight years ago. But he deserves hero status in American history, too.

Daschle, a former U.S. senator from South Dakota, was majority leader between 2001 and 2003. He is currently a special policy advisor at the law firm Alston & Bird and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

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