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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The New York Times > Washington > Senator Jeffords Is Expected to Retire

The New York Times > Washington > ril 20, 2005
Senator Jeffords Is Expected to Retire

WASHINGTON, April 20 - Senator James M. Jeffords, the independent Vermonter whose defection from the Republican Party in the spring of 2001 gave control of the Senate to the Democrats for 18 months, has reportedly decided not to seek re-election next year.

Mr. Jeffords planned to make an announcement this afternoon in Burlington, Vt., The Associated Press reported.

If Mr. Jeffords retires at the end of his third term, intriguing political possibilities would arise. It would not be surprising, for instance, if Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor whose presidential campaign soared early and flamed out almost as suddenly, decided to try for Mr. Jeffords's seat. Mr. Dean is now the chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

The Republicans have 55 seats in the Senate, to 44 for the Democrats. Then there is Mr. Jeffords, who caucuses with the Democrats and whose departure from the Republican fold triggered an upheaval in May 2001.

Before his defection, Republicans and Democrats had 50 seats each, but Vice President Dick Cheney's tie-breaking vote gave Republicans control of the chamber. Then Mr. Jeffords made his momentous shift on May 24, 2001, giving Democrats their razor-thin margin that lasted until the 2002 elections.

"Increasingly, I find myself in disagreement with my party," Mr. Jeffords said in 2001. "I understand that many people are more conservative than I am, and they form the Republican Party. Given the changing nature of the national party, it has become a struggle for our leaders to deal with me and for me to deal with them."

Mr. Jeffords is described in the Almanac of American Politics as one of President Bill Clinton's favorite Republicans. He was the only Republican in Congress who supported Mr. Clinton's ambitious and ultimately futile health-care plan. He left the Republican Party after refusing to go along with all of President Bush's tax cuts in 2001.

Mr. Jeffords, who will turn 71 on May 11, has had health problems, The A.P. reported today. He served in the Vermont State Senate from 1966 to 1968, was state attorney general from 1968 to 1972, then served in the United States House of Representatives from 1974 to 1988, before winning his Senate seat.

It is entirely in character for Mr. Jeffords to make important announcements in Vermont rather than in Washington. When he left the Republican Party four years ago, he made his announcement in his home state. "I wanted to be with my Vermonters," he said. "I want to go home to my people."

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