Jeffords, Vermont Senator who split with GOP, Dies at 80

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Former Vermont Sen. James Jeffords, who gave Democrats control of the Senate by leaving the Republican party in 2001, died Monday, a former aide confirmed to NBC News.

He was 80.

The Senate was split 50-50 when Jeffords famously announced he would leave the GOP to become an independent, a move that cost Republicans their committee chairmanships.

Jeffords was elected to the Senate as a Republican in 1988. His decision to split with the GOP and caucus with Democrats made Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., the majority leader until Democrats lost control of the Senate in the 2002 midterm elections.

Jeffords chose not to run for re-election when his term ended in 2006 because of growing health concerns.

He had lived in the Knollwood military retirement home in Washington, D.C., since his wife passed away in 2007. The aide, Diane Derby, said he had been in declining health.

-- Kasie Hunt and Andrew Rafferty