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Jim Jeffords Defects From GOP; Democrats Will Control Senate

Aired May 24, 2001 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JIM JEFFORDS (I), VERMONT: I will leave the Republican Party and become an independent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, a political earthquake: Vermont's Jim Jeffords shakes up control of the Senate, single-handed. What does all this do to the Bush agenda?

Joining us, senior White House adviser and top Bush political strategist Karl Rove; Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, who's on the verge of losing his Rules Committee chairmanship. And with him is Democratic Senator Chris Dodd, who will move into that slot. And then Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman -- he's going to take over as chairman of Government Affairs -- and Republican Senator Tim Hutchinson. Plus the House minority leader, Democrat Richard Gephardt, then Republican Jack Kemp, co-director of Empower America, and Bob Woodward, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, best-selling author, assistant managing editor of "The Washington Post" -- all next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening. It's been quite a day, and we begin with Karl Rove. He's on the North Lawn of the White House. This was taped a little while ago for broadcast right now. He's senior White House adviser, George W. Bush's longtime political strategist.

Karl, the simple question is, what do you make of it?

KARL ROVE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Well, it's an interesting day with a lot of change, and a new landscape in the Senate. But we -- we're confident the president's agenda will continue to move forward. We got great bipartisan support yesterday in the House for the education bill, and the Senate passed the president's tax cut by a surprisingly wide margin.

So we're -- we don't know how it'll all fall out, but we're very confident the president's agenda is going to continue to move forward in a very positive way.

America wants this agenda, and it's one that has good, strong support.

KING: Can you say you're disappointed in Mr. Jeffords' decision?

ROVE: Well, yeah, we are, I mean, particularly disappointed that he would leave the party saying he didn't feel he could support the president's agenda. I mean, the president was very clear during the campaign about this, and it's an agenda that won the support of the American people. And again, I repeat it's an agenda that's positive and it's got a lot of bipartisan support.

We're going to move forward with the next big pieces of it, the faith-based initiative, and our energy initiative to conserve and make better use of the energy we have and create more energy so America's working people and homes can be powered up.

But we're disappointed, sure, but life goes on.

KING: Republicans have switched to Democrats, Democrats have switched to Republicans. Do you at least say that it's a good idea if you're honest in your convictions to be in the party, or be, if you want to be an independent, be an independent?

ROVE: Yeah. It's a little odd that somebody who ran and got re- elected last fall would turn around so quickly, and it's also, we think, a little disingenuous to say that he couldn't bring himself to support the president's agenda. Again, the president laid out the agenda. It's one that Senator Jeffords campaigned for last fall. He was a Bush delegate to the national convention. You know, it's just sort of odd in that respect.

And we hope -- you have to respect somebody who does something out of principle. If there's something else that turns out to have been part of motivation here, I think people will be disappointed.

But...

KING: Do you suspect that?

ROVE: Well, I don't know. There's a lot of conversation around this town and we'll see: about committee chairs and deals and bargains and pledges. We'll see.

KING: It was said about you that you were part of the hard- balling of Mr. Jeffords. Is that true?

ROVE: Well, I'm -- no, ad I'm trying to figure out what that hard-balling is. Senator Jeffords, I met with him once about two months ago on the patients' bill of rights. He's one of the sponsors of the president's patients' bill of rights initiative. So I'm not certain what those -- but look, this is a town that is involved in the blame game and finger-pointing and so forth. And I understand it. That comes with the territory.

KING: Senator McCain said today, "Perhaps those self-appointed enforcers of party loyalty will learn to respect honorable differences among us."

ROVE: Will, look, the president's agenda is one that doesn't gain unanimous support from all Republicans every time, we recognize that. Some on the right of our party were upset at the president's education agenda. Some on the left of our party didn't like the size of the tax cut or some of its provisions. That's a reality of life. And if you start treating people in politics as permanent enemies, you're going to get down to a very few small group of permanent friends pretty darn quick. So, that's not the attitude of our president. It's certainly not the attitude of this White House.

KING: How well do you think President Bush, who ran as well on uniting, not dividing, will get along with what will be the majority leader, Tom Daschle?

ROVE: Well, look, the president comes at this with great experience. When he became governor of Texas, the House and Senate in Texas were both Democrats and they were a little suspicious of the new guy on the block and it worked out just fine. He -- as long as he keeps a focus on a positive agenda, as long as you treat everybody with dignity and respect, as long as you recognize that not everybody is going to agree every day, every way, that you're not going to get a 100 percent of what you want, then you can move in the process and move forward in a positive way, which is what the president is going to do.

KING: Karl, a couple other things. If all's fair in love and politics, are you going to try to get any Democrats to switch over?

ROVE: Well, we certainly -- we're an inclusive party. We welcome the switch of any Democrat who believes in the agenda that we're laying out. We had a little ceremony a couple of weeks ago for some Louisiana state elected Democrat officials who switched parties, and I think we've had 24 Democrat elected officials switch parties since the 1st of the year, and we'd welcome more.

KING: And Karl, do you think this at all will change the agenda?

ROVE: No, I don't think it will change the agenda. It will change the timing and the phasing of it. This president has been awfully successful. In the first 123 days, he's -- he's gotten the biggest tax cut in a generation, and the most significant and most far-reaching education reform legislation since 1965. And -- and that's off to an awfully big, strong start, and we'll see -- we'll see how the next 123 days play out.

And the Democrats in the Senate will get to be bigger players under their new leader, and we'll see how they handle that responsibility. But we're confident that the president's agenda is going to move forward.

KING: And one other thing, as you look back -- we always have hindsight -- is there something you could have done, you or the president, to keep Mr. Jeffords in the party?

ROVE: Well, if -- if -- if the reasons he offered this morning are accurate, that he did this because he couldn't support the president's agenda -- the president spent two years laying out that agenda to the American people and asking for their support. So you know...

KING: Nothing you could have done?

ROVE: Nothing you could do about that.

KING: Always good seeing you, Karl. Thanks.

ROVE: Good to see you, Larry. Thank you.

KING: Karl Rove, senior White House Adviser, George W. Bush's longtime political strategist from the North Lawn at the White House. We'll be right back live with lots of guests and your phone calls, if we can squeeze them in. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFFORDS: In the past, without the presidency, the various wings of the Republican Party in Congress have had some freedom to argue and influence and ultimately to shape the party's agenda. The election of President Bush changed that dramatically.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This morning, a distinguished United States senator chose to leave the Republican Party and become an independent. I respect Senator Jeffords, but I respectfully -- but respectfully, I couldn't disagree more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We now welcome to LARRY KING LIVE -- both in Washington -- Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky. He's now chairman of Rules and Administration. Also with him is Senator Chris Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, ranking member of Rules and Administration. Chris, will take over that job.

When, Chris? When do you think this is going to happen?

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, there will be some -- we're going to go on a break here now for about 10 days, and it will depend upon when a resolution is adopted. I'm sure Tom Daschle and Trent Lott will work on that over the next 10 days.

I suspect some time after we get back. I don't know when exactly that would occur.

KING: Does it feel kind of funny that you're going to replace the man sitting next to you?

DODD: Well, we're good friends. I mean, I know this is big political news today, Larry, but I -- you know, today we, I think, confirmed three or four people on the floor of the United States Senate. The Foreign Relations Committee, we marked up and sent out, I think, maybe 15 different nominations. I know the Banking Committee met on the securities.

So business went on today. The Senate functions on a bipartisan basis -- you've got to. Mitch and I have worked closely together during his tenure, and we'll continue to do that. I mean, there will be a difference. I'll be a chair by a half a vote or a vote, and we may have some different hearings, we may have some different witnesses. But we've got an obligation to serve the Senate together, and I look forward to working with him, as we have.

KING: Mitch, are you angry at Senator Jeffords?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: No. I think it's important to remember -- I sort of agree with Chris. Even though it is a big story for all of you guys, it's not that big a story in terms of the operation of the Senate. Unless you've got 60 votes in the Senate, you don't really control it anyway.

I'm going to lose my title, chairman, and Chris is going to get it. But in terms of the impact on policy, Larry, it will be minuscule.

KING: So how do you feel, Senator McConnell, about Senator Jeffords' decision?

MCCONNELL: Well, I'm disappointed, but Jim was also a tough fit in our party. He was the most liberal Republican. He got a lot of attention from the conference and from the leaders, because in order to keep him in the tent, we had to make a lot of accommodation. And I know that was always a difficult process.

I don't -- there was a lot of self-flagellation going on among our members today. I don't think that was in order. I think Jim was increasingly uncomfortable with us, as he said, and I think in the end he just decided, liberal as he was, that he just might feel more comfortable on the other side.

KING: Senator Dodd, Karl Rove just said, or implied, that maybe some shenanigans went on here, that it wasn't all just philosophy, that there were a lot of behind the deal -- deals going on.

DODD: Yeah, I was very disappointed. Of all the things that Mr. Rove said, that was the most disappointing, because I -- he doesn't know Jim Jeffords very well. Jim Jeffords I know very, very well. We've served in the House together, we've been in the Senate together. We serve on the Education Committee. I can't count the number of amendments or bills that I'd be the sponsor of his or he'd sponsored of mine. This is a highly principled individual, and I'm somewhat familiar with the events over the last week or so, and I can tell you flat-out that Jim Jeffords asked for nothing and was offered nothing.

This was a principled decision. He's a wonderful individual, a person of significant conscience, and I think he's respected by his colleagues, both Republicans and Democrats. What Mitch has just said I think is an accurate reflection. He's a person of deep views and longheld views, but the idea that this was some deal is really wrong. That couldn't be further from the truth.

KING: What do you think, Senator McConnell, this does to Trent Lott?

MCCONNELL: Trent Lott is in very solid shape as our leader. Nobody did more to accommodate Jim Jeffords over the years than Trent did. As you know, they had a singing group that Jim was a part of, we called The Singing Senators. And we all understood that Jim came from the most liberal state in America. You know, the congressman there is a Socialist, the only one in the House of Representatives.

KING: He'll be on later.

MCCONNELL: So we knew -- we knew that Jim had a difficult situation, that it was always a difficult fit. Trent did a very good job of trying to accommodate Jim Jeffords' interests. And Trent, he's not in any trouble at in our conference.

KING: Senator Dodd, you -- certainly, the Democrats now have more power just through chairmanships. You can block things from coming to the floor, can't you?

DODD: Well, we could, and we'll also have an agenda. I mean, the last year and the election, of course, we picked up five seats in the United States Senate. So we ended up with a 50-50 Senate, a unique, historic first. And so we want to go back to the issues that we think had an awful lot to do with that election outcome.

And so you're going to see, which won't come as any great surprise, I don't suspect, to our Republican friends a patients' bill of rights, prescription drugs coming up as a major issue. We'll go back immediately to education, because this has been our No. 1 priority, as well, and hopefully we can work out a bill that the president can support.

We're going to see other issues that we care about deeply. Election reform is one we want to bring up, we think is very, very important. So there will be a bit of a different agenda. But as Mitch has said -- he's absolutely correct about this -- you're going to have to work in a bipartisan fashion. None of the bills I just mentioned can be adopted without bipartisan support.

MCCONNELL: If I...

KING: Senator McConnell -- yeah, go ahead. I'm sorry, Mitch.

MCCONNELL: Yeah. If I could, you know, when you're in the minority in the Senate -- and both sides have done this -- you can obstruct, because of our rules, without any real accountability. I may surprise you when I say that I think in the end this is probably going to benefit President Bush.

Certainly, we're disappointed today that Jim left us, but now the Democrats will be in the majority, where it is not easy to obstruct without accountability. And so...

KING: You mean you like where you are?

MCCONNELL: No, I'd rather be in the majority. But I'm telling you that from President Bush's point of view, looking down the road, now the Democrats at least in one House must accept responsibility for their actions. And hopefully, they will decide to work with us on a bipartisan bases to advance those parts of the president's agenda with which they can agree. But if there's too much obstructionism, they run the risk of becoming the issue, not only in '02 but in '04 as well.

KING: And finally...

DODD: That won't be the case. Well, I was just going to say, Larry, that's not the case, and I think you'll also get -- the Republicans in the past have been pretty good in the minority. They handled the majority all right. But they've also got to work to help that president's agenda forward. So I think you're going to get some good cooperation here.

KING: I want to congratulate Chris Dodd. Finally, he's going to be a father, a longtime bachelor. He and his wife, Jackie, expecting their first child.

It's about time, Chris.

DODD: Well, a new -- a new -- a new chairmanship and a new child. How's that for good news?

KING: Welcome to the growing list of family members. Thank you both very much: Senators Mitch McConnell and Chris Dodd.

And when we come back, Senators Joseph Lieberman and Tim Hutchinson will join us. Lots more to come. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE. Joining us now is Senator Joseph Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut -- he was his party's vice presidential candidate; he's ranking member of Governmental Affairs and he'll chair that committee soon -- and Senator Tim Hutchinson, Republican of Arkansas.

Starting with you, Senator Hutchinson -- and I asked it of Senator McConnell -- are you angry at Senator Jeffords?

SEN. TIM HUTCHINSON (R), ARKANSAS: No, I'm not angry. I'm disappointed. I'm still smiling, but I'm very disappointed. It changes the landscape. It makes it more difficult to control the agenda in the Senate and to move the president's -- his programs forward. But it's the reality and we work with that, but I have a lot of respect for Jim Jeffords. He's my chairman on the Health, Education and Labor Committee, and I've worked with him, differed with him on occasion.

But I wish him the best.

KING: Senator Lieberman, did you see this coming?

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: In the last couple of days, we all did, but it was...

KING: I mean earlier?

LIEBERMAN: I saw that Jim -- look, Jim and I have worked together on education and environment, and I could see that he was not in tune with the Bush administration and with his caucus, but I never thought that he would leave the party.

I thought this was a very significant day, and a statement of transcending principle that he made. He did it for the right reasons, and I hope it's heard at the White House, because I think it really was a call for the administration to come back to the center and to be more bipartisan than they've been so far.

KING: Senator Hutchinson, your comment on that statement.

HUTCHINSON: Well, the White House -- the president has made extraordinary efforts to reach out. The president's exactly where he was during the campaign. There's no message there.

Jim was uncomfortable with the Republican caucus for a long time. I think he is going to be far to the left of many members of the Democratic caucus. So, from that standpoint, I don't think there is a message for the president here. He campaigned on his agenda of lowering taxes and having an energy program and his faith-based program. He is going to move ahead with that.

We are getting an education bill, so I don't think the president has anything -- there is no fault there. He made great efforts. The big question is going to be, we have seen a lot of obstructionism on this tax bill the last couple of weeks, over 50 amendments, kind of filibuster by amendment. The question now is, will the new majority leader, Tom Daschle, reach out, as the president has reached out, to work on a cooperative, bipartisan bases.

KING: Senator Lieberman, the president and Mr. Daschle have not met in a while. Do you expect that to move forward?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I hope so. I mean, in the very fact that the president has not reached out more to Tom Daschle as a Democratic leader in the Senate says that the president has not yet governed from the center, in a bipartisan way, as he promised in the campaign he would.

And that is why I think Jim Jeffords' decision of principle will have significant effects throughout this government, and I do believe that one effect will be that the president now has to reach out to Tom Daschle and Senate Democrats. And in the end, I think that is going to be good for our government. This is a call to both parties to come to the center of American politics and get something done for the people. KING: Senator McCain, Senator Hutchinson, took a little slap today, ending saying it's well past time for the Republican Party to grow up and accept all this. What did you think of his statement?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I think it was unfortunate. I think we are very respectful of diversity of viewpoints within the caucus, and we should be. But that does not mean that we abandon our principles. As Jim Jeffords has principles, so we who are conservatives have principles, and we must stand for those.

That doesn't mean to be intolerant, doesn't mean chasing people out of the party. But it means an honest respect from both viewpoints. We have given the moderates in the caucus great attention and a great opportunity to express their viewpoint, and they have had great influence. Jim Jeffords has had great influence within the caucus, so I think John's comments were -- were -- were -- were not on target.

KING: Senator Lieberman, are you going to seeking your party's nomination?

LIEBERMAN: Well, right now, I'm pretty excited about being called Mr. Chairman of the Government Affairs Committee. The '04 is a long way away, but this is a great opportunity. This is a wonderful committee. Oversight Committee, sometimes an investigative committee -- and I look forward to using it not as some have in the past, not Fred Thompson, but others in the Senate and the House, to go back to the politics of personal destruction.

I think this committee can really work at a bipartisan bases to make the government more effective, to get rid of the waste, improve the management and get the taxpayers more for their money, and that ought to be on a bipartisan bases.

KING: Thank you both, senators Joe Lieberman and Tim Hutchinson.

HUTCHINSON: Thank you.

LIEBERMAN: Thanks, Larry.

KING: When we come back -- thank you, guys -- Senator Richard Shelby, he switched from Democrat to Republican. Senator Lincoln Chafee, the son of the late John Chafee -- there's rumors about him. Representative Bernard Sanders, the maverick independent of Vermont, and our own Bob Woodward will join us. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Now we welcome to LARRY KING LIVE, also in Washington, Senator Richard Shelby, who switched from the Democrats to the Republicans in 1994. He's chairman of the select Committee on Intelligence; senator Lincoln Chafee, Republican of Rhode Island, he was appointed to fill the unexpired Senate term of his late father John in November of '99 and then elected to his first full term in November of 2000; Representative Bernard Sanders, the independent of Vermont, representative at large; and Bob Woodward, assistant managing editor of the "Washington Post," Pulitzer winner, best-selling author. His most recent book, another bestseller, "Maestro: Greenspan's Fed and the American Boom."

Senator Shelby, I guess you are in a unique position here. You can't complain, you did the same, right?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: I never complain, and you never explain either, do you? But I crossed the aisle seven years ago. It was the right thing for me to do. I feel comfortable in the party. I wish Jim Jeffords had stayed in the Republican Party, but he didn't. He is an honorable man. I wish him well. We are going to have to look inward and see what we can do about this, but the fact remains, this is a close Senate, whatever happens.

KING: But you can understand him, as you understood yourself at least?

SHELBY: Well, I talked to Jim. Jim -- his -- his political philosophy, it was, I think -- although he was a Republican long time, he was what I would call a liberal Republican, but a decent man. I was a conservative Democrat, and as the parties went through their historical shift, I was part of it. And I don't know what will happen here.

KING: Senator Chafee, has this given you pause? You are known as -- in the more moderate element of the party, as was your father?

SEN. LINCOLN CHAFEE (R), RHODE ISLAND: Well, I will just have to agree that with Richard, Senator Shelby. In talking with him before coming on the air, as to what made him switch parties in 1994, and he was saying it was the heavy-handedness of the administration at the time, that of course being President Clinton. I think the heavy- handed, the divisive nature of this administration's agenda did contribute to Senator Jeffords' leaving, so some similarities there. And as far as my own case goes, no, I'm happy where I am.

KING: But you do agree that the administration was at fault in losing Senator Jeffords, is that what you're saying?

CHAFEE: Well, I'm sure there is some long history of -- in the Senate and seeing it tilt a little more to the conservative than it was in '80s, where maybe 20, 23 moderates in '80s, from all across the country. Nancy Kassebaum from Kansas, and of course Bob Packwood and Mark Hatfield from Oregon, all across the country. Now it's very few moderates left, and so I think that contributed, but certainly what happened with the new administration -- no one can argue that it wasn't a divisive number of months here.

KING: Congressman Sanders, what will be the effect in Vermont?

REP. BERNARD SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Well, Larry, I think that Senator Jeffords anguished. He has been a Republican his whole life, but I think ultimately the decision that he made reflected the interest of the people of the state of Vermont. I go around the state a whole lot, and I have yet to meet one Vermonter, and said: "Bernie, you've got to go there and fight for hundreds of billions of dollars, for tax breaks, for the richest 1 percent and then not have a strong prescription drug program for our senior citizens, not adequately fund education for..."

KING: So, he's not going to -- what you are saying, Bernie, is he is not going to be hurt by this in Vermont?

SANDERS: I don't think so. If anything, I think his popularity will go up.

KING: Go up?

SANDERS: The people in Vermont are not supportive, I think, of the president's agenda.

KING: Bob Woodward, reportorially, what's your read?

BOB WOODWARD, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, obviously in the short run, it's a setback for Bush, but I think it's quite possible in the long run that Senator Jeffords has done a big favor for the president. Namely, he will force Bush and his administration to move to the center, and that is where American politics is now.

And it will give him leverage with the right wing in his own party, to say: "Look, I can't propose things, I can't propose somebody for the Supreme Court that will not get through the Democratically controlled Senate," so it really could be very good news for him down the road.

KING: We will take a break and come back with more of Senator Shelby and Chafee, Congressman Sanders and Bob Woodward. And later on, we will be joined by Dick Gephardt, also later, Governor Jim Gilmore of Virginia and Jack Kemp. And Bob Woodward will join that group later too. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Senator Shelby, is Bob Woodward right? Will the president have to go more to the middle?

SHELBY: Oh, I think he will have to. But I think President Bush has been reaching out. He has been reaching out to Democrats already. He might have to reach a little farther now. But he is going to have to govern from center.

I would like for him to govern from center right myself, but the reality of the situation is that Democrats can set the process now, they can keep it going a while, and we have to look at it. But we could work together, and this could be the beginning of even a better administration, in some respects.

KING: Senator Chafee, has there been any pressure on you to switch?

CHAFEE: Yes, of course, with my voting record you can only imagine, and in a 50-50 Senate. But in relation to your last question to Senator Shelby, as to and what Bob Woodward said, I do wonder -- and in reference to Karl Rove's comments that the agenda is going to continue, I just hope they do move to the center, and hearing Karl Rove say the agenda is going to continue, they're not going to deviate, I think is giving us all pause.

KING: Congressman Sanders, what did you make of what Karl Rove said? And also, question about a little bit about how this move happened?

SANDERS: Well, Larry, all I know is we are the only country in the industrialized world that does not have a national health care system guaranteeing health care to all people. Our people are paying by far the highest prescription drug costs in the world. Millions of middle-class families can't afford to send their kids to college, and the story -- day care is in disaster from one end of this country to the other.

I would like to see the president of the United States talking about issues that reflect the needs of the middle class and working families of this country, instead of tax breaks for the rich. What about raising minimum wage to a living wage? Let's talk about those issues.

KING: Do you expect him to go that route?

SANDERS: Not unless we arouse -- not unless we get the people of this country to stand up and demand that the administration stop listening to the folks who came together to give him $23 million the other day, and stop -- start paying attention to the middle class and working families. If we can do that, yeah, you'll bet, they'll change their agenda.

KING: Bob Woodward, senators Nelson and Miller broke with their party today and voted to confirm Ted Olson. What does that say? Is there possibly another switch coming?

WOODWARD: I don't think so. I mean -- I think the thing you have to look at that occurred this week that kind of was a development under the radar, which in many respects should not have been, is the passage in the Senate of this tax cut. There were 12 Democrats who joined all of the Republicans. It is a significant political achievement for President Bush.

I think Karl Rove was right. This is a very, very big deal. And to get that many Democrats on that big a tax cut is something -- if six months ago somebody had said that is going to occur, you could have got 100 to one odds against it.

KING: So, based on that, Senator Shelby, where are we?

SHELBY: I think the Bush administration, despite everything that has been said today, is doing well, as Bob Woodward just reiterated the fact that nobody expected six months ago for us to be where we are, that is the Bush tax cut on the brink of passing. And we are hoping to do it tomorrow.

This is a big achievement early in the administration. It might be the biggest that he does. But it was an important one, and he is off to a good start here.

KING: Thank all very much, Senator Richard Shelby, Senator Lincoln Chafee, Representative Bernard Sanders. Bob Woodward will come back in a couple of minutes to join Governor Jim Gilmore of Virginia and Jack Kemp, the co-founder of Empower America. We will spend a couple of those moments with Congressman Richard Gephardt, the House minority leader, from Missouri. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We are back with the House Minority Leader Democrat Richard Gephardt of Missouri. What's your overview, what do you make of today's events?

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Well, first of all, I thought the statement by Senator Jeffords was very moving and really based on high moral principle. I really was very, very impressed by what he said.

Look, I think this is an administration and a leadership in the Congress that has not been bipartisan, and I hope now they will be.

KING: Any comments -- I don't know if you heard what Karl Rove said at the beginning of the show -- he implied at least that there may have been some hanky-panky here.

GEPHARDT: Oh, I don't believe that at all. Jim Jeffords is 67 years old. He has been in the Congress for 26 years. He has been a Republican his entire life. I think what he really was saying today is there is not room in the modern Republican Party for moderate Republicans. He had to leave his party to stand up for his principles.

That was a stunning statement. I think that the Republican Party has gone far right. They are largely intolerant of other thoughts in their party. And they've got to start listening to their moderates and working with Democrats in a bipartisan way to get things done for the American people. If they would do that, they would have a lot of success.

KING: Think we'll see any shifts in the House?

GEPHARDT: You never know. This may get moderate Republicans in the House to think. I think the spotlight now shifts to the Republican House leadership. And the question is: When these bipartisan bills now come out of the Senate over to the House, will the House leadership really work with us and with Senate Democrats and Republicans, to get a patients' bill of rights done, a Medicare prescription drug program, education, and the rest.

KING: Any effect, do you think, Congressman Gephardt, on the House and Senate races next year? Of this occurrence today?

GEPHARDT: Well, I think the American people really want us to work in the middle. They want us to be bipartisan. They want us to be problem solvers. And I think that the party that shows that that is what are they trying to do, honestly, is going to be the party that is going to win the election in 2002. So it is a ways off to that election. But I think the party that really gets in the middle and works to solve problems in a pragmatic way is going to be the party that's going to come out on top.

KING: Now, what about the agenda? Do you think anything has to change? The Bush agenda.

GEPHARDT: I think it is going to change. I think with Tom Daschle and the Democrats deciding on the agenda, day-to-day, in the Senate, you are going to see a different agenda than we have seen. You are going to see campaign finance reform come right after its passed, and I think we are going to get it done.

I think you are going to see a patients' bill of rights. I think you are going to see a Medicare prescription drug program. I think the education bill will get finished. And I think you are going to see the implementation of a budget that does the right things and education and health care, the things that the American people have been saying for weeks and weeks that they have wanted.

You know, when I go home now, people come up to me and say where is the prescription drug program? You all talked about it in your ads, and now it is not being don. Well it is not done because the Republican leadership, in the House and Senate has not brought that program forward.

KING: And that is because they began with the priority of the tax cut, and they succeeded. Did they not?

GEPHARDT: They did. And now we are going to see that the choice of a tax cut that is as much as 1.35 trillion over 10 years, forces off the table a lot of other priorities that the American people have. They want prescription drugs, they want help for their local schools, and they want a patients' bill of rights. If you have a tax cut that large, it is simply means that a lot of other things that are very popular, and very much wanted by the American people, can't be done.

KING: What do you expect, Dick? We know what you think you would like. What is your forecast? What's going to happen?

GEPHARDT: Well, it really depends on the House leadership, the Republican House leadership, and the president. If they really get bipartisan, then we can get a lot done, let me just tell you this story.

KING: Do you think they will?

GEPHARDT: I think they will. I hope they will. We just finished this tax bill in a budget. There wasn't one moment of real bipartisan collaboration, negotiation in the House, in the House Budget Committee or the Ways and Means Committee on the tax bill before this bill was produced.

It was my way or the highway from day one. There was no Democratic thought that was added to this bill. They didn't get but just a handful of Democratic votes. I don't think that is healthy for the country, and I don't think that is what people want.

KING: Always good seeing you. Thanks, Congressman.

GEPHARDT: Thanks so much.

KING: Representative Dick Gephardt. He is House minority leader, Democrat of Missouri. When we come back, Governor Jim Gilmore, not only Republican of Virginia but chairman of the Republican National Committee; Jack Kemp, once his party's nominee for Vice President, co-founder of Empower America; and Bob Woodward returns as well. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. We now welcome to "LARRY KING LIVE," also in Washington, Governor Jim Gilmore Republican of Virginia. He's also chairman of the Republican National Committee. Our old buddy Jack Kemp co-founder of Empower America and the G.O.P. vice presidential candidate in 96. And Bob Woodward assistant managing editor of "The Washington Post," Pulitzer prizewinning, best-selling author rejoins us.

Governor Gilmore, as chairman of the committee and governor of Virginia, what do you make of what Senator Jeffords did today?

GOV. JIM GILMORE (R-VA), RNC CHAIRMAN: Well, you know, I think that everybody in the Republican Party is sorry and disappointed with the action of Senator Jeffords, but you know I think what really -- we are really focusing on in the Republican Party right now, is what we are doing for the people of the United States.

The president has just gotten his tax cut through, this is a monumental achievement. It's going to mean good things for working people all across this country. He's just got his education bill through on a bipartisan bases, through the House. So I think we're really more focused on issues and the success of the president. I mean I'm sorry that this has happened and all that, but I just think the Senator Jeffords just is a little out of step with successes that are going on right now in the United States Congress on behalf of the people and from the White House.

KING: Jack Kemp, what do you make of it? Is it an act of courage, political courage? Philosophical, what's your read?

JACK KEMP, EMPOWER AMERICA: It is disappointing -- clearly disappointing -- Winston Churchill said one time that some men change their political party for the sake of their principles, and others change their principles for the sake of a party. I think in this case, Jim Jeffords has changed parties not for the sake of principle, but for sake of a party.

He's moved the Republican Party -- he moved to independent -- but nonetheless he's thrown the control of the U.S. Senate into the hands of -- in my opinion -- the class-warfare combatants of the left wing of the Democratic Party. Very disappointed. I like Jim personally, but I can't imagine why he would have done this. KING: Well do think he did it because he believes that policy?

KEMP: Well you know, I went back and I looked at some of the things that Jim Jeffords has stood for, and I know they did that to me and they would do to it to Jim Gilmore or any other politician. But, he voted against the Reagan tax cuts, he voted against cutting capital gains taxes, he voted to water down President Bush's school choice program, he is against energy production and supply, he is against more infrastructure.

I don't know what he is for. He is against tax cut. He is for health care, and I give him credit for that, but I think he will be more comfortable, albeit I think there is a sense of arrogance in my opinion, for taking almost two months after his own election as a Republican, running on a Republican platform. It was far more moderate than anybody would agree, and throwing the Senate into the hands of Tom Daschle, Ted Kennedy, and again the class warfare people of the Democratic Party.

KING: Bob Woodward, how do you react to what Jack Kemp just said and what Governor Gilmore said?

WOODWARD: First of all, I think the one key to this is that Jeffords is a politician. He has been a politician for 26 years. He has not been in a monastery, and I would accept that this is an act of conscience, but he has done it intentionally, and it is a political calculation. He is fired for effect, if the Senate were not evenly divided like this and he switched parties, the story would be on page A-19, and would it be like the tree falling in a forest that no one heard.

But because it's 50-50, in this case, the tree to a certain extent, has fallen on the president's motorcade and got the attention of everyone.

And he is well aware of what he is doing. In his brief remarks today, he recounted how Senator Grassley, a friend of his, the Republican, now chairman of the Finance Committee, wanted to be -- wanted to have that job for a long time, maybe to certain extent all of his life, and it turns out Grassley's only going to have that job for a couple of months. And in recounting that, Jeffords smiled. He knew the impact of this.

I do disagree with Jack Kemp a little bit on this, that this is about class warfare. I mean, what Jeffords says and what his record shows, he is a man of political moderation. And it is a shot fired in that direction.

GILMORE: Well, I don't agree with that at all. I think that this is a man who is a real liberal. I mean, as far back as 1981, he voted against the Ronald Reagan tax cut. That was a long time ago, 19, 20 years ago. He has been consistent all along in the approach that he has taken.

Now, listen, if this is a matter of principle, Larry, OK, I think we can respect principle. But there are these persistent rumors that this had something to do with a chairmanship over on the Democratic side. I think Jim Jeffords can take that right off the table right now, and just say he is not going to accept a chairmanship on the Democratic side, and then we can all focus on the fact that the guy is just a fellow who has very liberal principles, and we will move on with our agenda.

KING: Let me get a break and come back with more with Gilmore, Kemp and Woodward. This is LARRY KING LIVE, don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Jack Kemp, based on what we have heard here, why was Senator Jeffords ever a Republican in the first place?

KEMP: Well, I -- you know, that's a good question. I agree with Jim Gilmore, I think he is a liberal. I have no problem with that. But what really bothers me, Larry, and I say this with some emotion, is some of the press and even John McCain are basically saying that there is now no room in the Republican Party for moderates.

How silly can you get? We have been hospitable to moderates and liberal Republicans and conservative Republicans. We have to have a big tent. Here is a guy who is such a big tent, he wants to go out and make the Republican Party a party of African-American and Latino and immigrant Americans, so -- but here is the point that has to be made, and I will make it as quickly as I possibly can.

Jim Jeffords voted to water down President Bush's school choice program. In fact, he removed it altogether. Education reform without school choice is almost neutered, in my opinion. He was for cutting taxes, but only for people who were at the bottom rung of ladder. He didn't want to do it across the board. And you have to cut rates across the board! And with all due respect to Bob's argument, the tax cut of 1.3, or 1.5, or whatever you want to calculate it as, is 1 percent of the GDP of the next 10 years...

KING: So, your point is?

KEMP: That hardly qualifies as an irrational act of an immoderate president. And Jim Jeffords knows that, and he is really hurting, I think, the country and Vermont.

WOODWARD: But wait, you have to say this, Jeffords voted for the tax cut. I mean, that is -- so you can't really say that somehow he is against this thing. In fact, his obstinacy on the issue caused the tax cut to be less. Whether that's good or not depends on your political perspective, but he -- he did vote for it.

KEMP: I watched his speech today, and he said he is against the presidency. He is against the party on education, taxes, trade, energy, missile defense. I mean, he would be much happier with Tom Daschle.

GILMORE: And I want to add one thing, Larry, if I could. We need to understand this is very much an anomaly. This is very, very unusual. There have been 25 Democratic office holders who switched to the Republicans just in this administration alone, in the last 180 days or so, and we have had over 600 in just in recent years, change just in recent years.

So this is a one of these rare differences that you see with a guy who is very much on the left and he's uncomfortable with the mainstream direction of the Republican Party, and empowering people through tax cuts, and quality in education.

KING: Bob, do you sense here, even despite some of the statements by the earlier senators, a deep sense of anger?

WOODWARD: No. I don't -- I don't...

KING: No?

WOODWARD: I don't think so. I think people who have lost their place in the sun are a little unhappy about it. But I think the really interesting issue is we are going to find out more about who President Bush is. This is going to test him in a way that was unanticipated.

He says he is a moderate conservative, a compassionate conservative, and if you look at the things he talked about in the campaign, in the issues that are on the table, quite possibly the tax cut is the forerunner of this. It is the first of many things that are going to be done in a bipartisan way, that are considered compassionate conservatism or whatever, and Jeffords may be part of that bipartisanship.

KING: Thank all very much, Governor Jim Gilmore, Jack Kemp and Bob Woodward. Lots more on this in the days and nights ahead, and of course CNN will be on top of this story around the clock.

Bill Maher will have his unusual comments on things tomorrow night. To submit your questions early, by the way, if you want to ask questions of Bill Maher, check out my Web site at cnn.com/larryking.

We thank all of our guests for being with us tonight. Stay tuned tonight for "CNN TONIGHT" with lots more, covering of the doings going on in Washington. And around the world, that tragedy in Jerusalem, we will stay on top of that too. Good night for everybody here at CNN.

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