A Glance at How Senate Turnover Affects Key GOP Leaders
A look at how the Senate's turnover from Republican to Democratic control affected some of the participants Tuesday.
Vice President Dick Cheney said little as he hustled through a crowd of reporters on his way out of the Capitol after having lunch with Republican senators. While he is still the Senate's titular president, Cheney's role diminishes with the end of the 50-50 split in members. He can still break ties in favor of President Bush's policies, much as Al Gore did for former President Clinton. But his presence no longer is as important as it was before Vermont Sen. James Jeffords announced he was leaving the GOP and becoming an independent, giving Democrats a 50-49-1 edge.
Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina chose not to spend the last day of Republican control presiding over the Senate as its president pro tempore, a job that goes to the longest serving member of the majority party. Instead, he appointed Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., to open the Senate after its Memorial Day recess. Thurmond, 98, had gaveled the Senate to order every day until three months ago. That job now goes to West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd, the longest-serving Democrat. As president pro tempore, Byrd, 83, also replaces Thurmond as third in the line of succession to the presidency, behind the vice president and the speaker of the House.
As No. 2 in the Senate Republican leadership, Sen. Don Nickles enjoyed prime office space just off the Senate floor. On the door is a sign with gold lettering reading "Assistant Majority Leader." The staunch conservative from Oklahoma will continue to be responsible for rallying votes for GOP-supported bills but will have a much smaller role in managing the Senate floor. He'll lose the sign, but maybe not the office space. "I don't think so, I hope not," he said. "This is not Black Tuesday. I've been in the majority, minority, majority, minority ... . I very much expect to be back in the majority." What's certain is that Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada will get the sign.
The Rules and Administration Committee may not have the most exciting name, but it is responsible for administrative matters in the Senate. One issue before the committee that has received particular attention since the November presidential contest is election reform. The duty of overseeing reform now falls to Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut. Losing the chairmanship of the committee is Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican known for his blunt speaking style and opposition to federal restrictions on the financing of political campaigns. "I don't need the title in order to have a sense of self-worth," McConnell said Tuesday.
For Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, there was a little deja vu watching Jeffords leave his party. Gramm switched from Democrat to Republican in 1983 while still a member of the House. A year later he ran successfully for the Senate. As the Banking Committee's chairman, Gramm was a force in tearing down barriers between providers of financial services and a vehement critic of the Community Reinvestment Act, which requires bankers to provide loans to low-income areas. With the Democratic takeover, Maryland Sen. Paul Sarbanes, an ideological opposite of Gramm, becomes the committee's chairman. Gramm quoted a character in Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove: "The best thing to do with death is ride off from it."