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GOP needs a pit bull - not a cheerleader
By Nicholas Sanchez
Contrary to the spin some conservative commentators (most notably Larry Kudlow of National Review) are putting on Vermont Senator Jim Jefford's defection to the Democratic Party, this party-switch does indeed represent a seismic shift in the United States Senate. Granted, Jeffords is a Northeastern liberal. He is a greenie, a fervent supporter of abortion, a foe of the 2nd Amendment, a big tax-and-spender, and on and on, ad infinitum. It is not as if his voting record is going to get more liberal than it already is. That is almost impossible.
However, by changing his party affiliation to "Independent," and choosing to caucus with the Democrats, Jeffords has changed the control of the United States Senate from the Republicans to the Democrats. This puts the Democrats in charge of all of the Senate committees - which, as military expert Frank Gaffney recently pointed out, means that Joe Biden and Carl Levin will be the committee heads who will review Bush's missile-defense program instead of Jesse Helms and John Warner. And, as many a GOP staffers have been lamenting the last couple of days, this puts might of Senate powerful schedule control into the hands of Senate Majority-Leader-to-be, Tom Daschle.
As disappointing a turn as this is for Republicans, many political observers have been expecting the Democrats to take control of the Senate since before the 2000 elections. Since last November, the GOP's control over the Senate was tenuous. In fact, the Democrats actually had control of the Senate earlier this year because of the seventeen days difference before the swearing in of the Congress and the presidential inauguration. (That means that technically, Al Gore was President of the Senate for those days and provided the Democrats with an ephemeral majority.) And during that short time the Democrats took great joy in torturing the incoming Bush Administration by savaging its nominees - particularly John Ashcroft, Gale Norton, and Linda Chavez.
After such bad behavior you might have thought that Sen. Trent Lott would have been willing to make life for the Democrats as tough as possible once the GOP was back in control. You might think that, but you would be wrong. Instead, Mr. Lott opted for a power-sharing program in the Senate. Namely, all committees were evenly split and governed by "co-chairmen" - one Republican, one Democrat. Well, we'll see if the Democrats are equally charitable now that they are running the show.
Personally, I am not holding my breath. Already, Senator Tom Daschle and Representative Dick Gephardt are strutting around like peacocks. They know that Democrats are much more effective in using their Congressional powers than their Republican counterparts are. Daschle in particular has emerged as one of the most powerful men in the Senate. Which is why it is not surprising that already we hear how the Democrats plan to change how business is done in the Senate.
Remember Bush's dismissal of the American Bar Association and its ex cathedra review of federal judicial nominees? Well, New York Senator Chuck Schumer has already asserted that, now that the Senate is under new management, the Democrats will re-institute the ABA's review of judicial nominees, "at least for the Senate."
Of course, the Republicans are equally prepared to assume their role in the minority. They have been practicing for it ever since they assumed the majority in 1995.
It is now a commonly held view among conservatives that Trent Lott, a former cheerleader at his alma mater Ole Miss, was terribly miscast as the Senate Majority Leader. This former warrior of the "New Right" quickly raised the ire of conservatives by capitulating to the Clinton Administration on a number of important issues such as the Chemical Weapons Treaty and by confirming some of the worst of Bill Clinton's judicial nominees after some backroom horse-trading.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on one's perspective, looking back at the performance of the Republicans for the last decade or so, they actually seem to perform better when they were in the minority. Bob Dole endeared himself to a lot of conservative activists by being a pit bull during the first part of Clinton's administration. Now that the GOP is in the minority again, perhaps it is a good time for Republicans to reconsider their leadership. After all, what the Republicans need right now is a pit bull, not a cheerleader.
Nicholas Sanchez is the Free Congress Foundation's Director of Development.
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