Jeffords decision Wednesday could throw Senate to Democrats
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Washington is waiting for Vermont Republican Sen. Jim Jeffords to announce Wednesday whether he will leave the GOP -- a move that could give Democrats control of the Senate.
"I will make a statement tomorrow," Jeffords said Tuesday evening.
Jeffords, a 13-year Senate veteran, met separately with President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on the eve of his planned announcement, sources said. Asked if he informed Bush of his decision, Jeffords said, "I let him know the status."
With the Senate currently split 50-50 between the two major parties, he would throw the Senate into Democratic hands if he decided to quit the GOP. Sources close to Jeffords told CNN he is also considering the possibility of becoming an independent, but voting for the Democratic leadership. If he chose that option, Democrats would still take over control of the Senate and all its committees.
Two sources familiar with the senator's thinking said he informed his staff Tuesday that he will switch parties, and that his staff workers are trying to talk him out of it. Jeffords is "a Republican today, a Republican tonight, but I don't know if he will be a Republican tomorrow," one said.
Many Republicans say Jeffords -- a GOP moderate who has been at odds with his party leadership on several major issues -- single- handedly sank Bush's proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut. He forced the White House to negotiate with moderate Democrats on a smaller tax cut when he refused to go along with the Bush proposal.
Fearing that the White House plan would cut too much from special education programs, Jeffords has supported a $1.25 trillion tax cut compromise proposed by Sen. John Breaux, D-Louisiana.
Republicans have been whispering about making Jeffords pay for that move, possibly by killing a Northeast dairy compact that allows Vermont dairy farmers to charge more for milk. Jeffords also was upset over not being invited to the White House for a National Teacher of the Year award ceremony honoring a Vermont high school educator.
Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said Tuesday that Jeffords would be "more than welcome" to join the party.
"Not only would Sen. Jeffords be welcome, there's a half dozen other Republicans that I would welcome," Daschle said.
Republicans were more circumspect about the move.
"It's very unusual, and I frankly will be very surprised if Sen. Jeffords changes parties, but I don't know," former Republican chairman Haley Barbour told CNN.
Added Arizona Sen. John McCain, "I obviously would like to see him remain in the Republican Party. But it's obviously a very sensitive matter that we're dealing with."
CNN correspondents Jonathan Karl and Major Garrett contributed to this report.
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