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Old May 23rd, 2001, 11:44 AM   #17
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May 23, 2001


<font size=5>Senator to Leave G.O.P. and Become Independent</font>

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Filed at 10:10 a.m. ET


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republican Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont has told Democrats he intends to abandon his party and become an independent, officials said Wednesday, a switch that would end GOP control of the Senate and crimp President Bush's ability to pass his agenda.

``He's going to leave, that's all I've been told,'' said one Democratic senator, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A second Democratic senator, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said party leaders had told him Jeffords would align himself with Democrats for organizational purposes, thereby giving them control.

Jeffords, a moderate in a party of conservatives, told reporters he would disclose his decision at mid-afternoon.

Several sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Jeffords might defer the effective date of his switch until early June. That would enable Republicans to push through Bush's income tax cut, now pending on the Senate floor.

In an atmosphere of extraordinary suspense, Democrats also acknowledged they were concerned about Republican attempts to counter Jeffords' presumed defection by enlisting Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., to switch to the GOP.

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