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The 106th Congress

January 6, 1999 at 12:00 AM EST
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KWAME HOLMAN: Shortly after noon today the House of Representatives and the Senate convened simultaneously, officially beginning the 106th Congress.

JEFF TRANDAHL, Clerk, House of Representatives : This being the day fixed by the 20th amendment to the Constitution of the United States and Public Law 105-350, for the meeting of the 106th Congress of the United States, the House will be in order.

KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans retained majority control in the House, but by the slimmest margin since 1955. There are 222 Republicans, 211 Democrats, and 1 independent. The one vacancy is the seat of now former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who took much of the blame for Republican losses on election day and resigned from Congress three days later. Louisiana’s Bob Livingston, the Republicans’ initial selection to replace Gingrich, last month acknowledged having had extramarital affairs and announced he too would resign from Congress later this year. Just last evening Republicans chose Illinois’s Dennis Hastert as their new consensus candidate for speaker of the House, and the first order of business today was to elect the new speaker. J. C. Watts of Oklahoma spoke for the House Republicans.

REP. J. C. WATTS: As chairman of the Republican Conference I am directed by the unanimous vote of that conference to present for election to the office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, for the 106th Congress, the name of the Honorable J. Dennis Hastert, a representative-elect from the state of Illinois.

KWAME HOLMAN: On behalf of House Democrats, Martin Frost of Texas, placed in nomination the name of their leader.

REP. MARTIN FROST: The Honorable Richard A. Gephardt, a representative-elect from the State of Missouri.

KWAME HOLMAN: Voting in the House of Representatives normally is done by electronic ballot; however, the election of Speaker is a voice vote. Each member is called upon to announce his or her choice before the full body, a time-consuming procedure.

SPOKESMAN: Gephardt – Louis of Kentucky – Hastert – Linder – Hastert – Lepinski – Gephardt.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate, meanwhile, conducted its first day of business somewhat more expeditiously. There too Republicans still hold the majority, having gained exactly the same number of seats as they lost in the November elections.

SPOKESMAN: Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States -

KWAME HOLMAN: As Vice President, Al Gore also holds the title of president of the Senate and has the responsibility of squaring in the newly-elected members. They included newcomers to Capitol Hill – Democrat John Edwards of North Carolina and Republican Peter Fitzgerald of Illinois, both of whom defeated incumbents last November. Two former governors also were sworn in as Senators, Republican George Voinovich of Ohio and Democrat Evan Buy of Indiana. And four former House members took the oath: Jim Bunning of Kentucky, Charles Schumer of New York, Michael Crapo of Idaho, and Blanche Lincoln, who left Congress two years ago, gave birth to twins and returned today as the new Senator from Arkansas. There was applause in the House as well as Republican Dennis Hastert, indeed, was elected speaker of the 106th Congress on the strength of the Republican majority. Minority Leader Gephardt greeted Hastert at the speaker’s chair with a direct pledge of cooperation.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: Mr. Speaker and members of the House, before I hand the gavel over to our new speaker, let me say to him simply, let’s bury the hatchet.

KWAME HOLMAN: Hastert broke with tradition and went down to the well of the House to deliver his remarks.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: I believe in limited government, but when government does act, it must be for the good of the people. And serving in this body is a privilege; it’s not a right. And each of us was sent here to conduct the people’s business. And I intend to get down to business. That means formulating, debating, and voting on legislation that addresses the problems that the American people once solved.

KWAME HOLMAN: Hastert said he would focus his energies on improving health care and education, shoring up Medicare and Social Security, continuing economic growth, and strengthening national defense.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: These are not Democratic or Republican issues; they’re American issues. We should be able to reach agreement quickly on the goals. And yes, we’re going to argue about the means, but if we’re in earnest about our responsibilities, we will find common ground to get the job done. In the process we will build the people’s faith in this great United States Congress.

KWAME HOLMAN: Hastert returned to the speaker’s chair to take the oath of office from the man considered the dean of the House, 23-term Democrat John Dingell.

REP. JOHN DINGELL: That you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which you are about to enter, so help you God. REP.

DENNIS HASTERT: I do.

REP. JOHN DINGELL: Congratulations, Mr. Speaker. (applause)

KWAME HOLMAN: Then, in his first official act as speaker, Hastert delivered the oath to the entire House membership.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: And that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on what you are about to enter, so help you God. Congratulations! You are new members of the 106th Congress. (applause)

KWAME HOLMAN: The House moved on to some routine housekeeping matters and late this afternoon approved the assignment of managers to lay out the case of impeachment against President Clinton in the upcoming Senate trial. While debate over a trial format continued in the Senate, leaders of both parties expressed their expectations.

SEN. TRENT LOTT: No one can predict the outcome of the deliberations on impeachment, but everyone can expect the calm and careful exercise of our duty under the Constitution. That will not conflict with our role as legislators.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: We should set aside the rancor and recriminations that have marked these sad deliberations and raise to a level of dignity and decency that will be judged favorably in history’s long light.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate adjourned late this afternoon but Senators will return tomorrow as the trial of President Clinton officially begins.