New Faces for the 105th Congress
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MARGARET WARNER: The newest members of the House of Representatives began arriving in Washington this week for orientation. There are 75 freshmen in this new Congress, 43 Democrats and 32 Republicans. We have five of them with us now to talk about their plans for the upcoming term. The Democrats are Debby Stabenow of Michigan and Sylvester Reyes of Texas. The Republicans are Bob Riley of Alabama, Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri, and Ann Northup of Kentucky. Welcome, all of you to Washington and to the NewsHour. Jo Ann Emerson, what did you–what’s the most important thing you came to Washington to do?
REP.-ELECT JO ANN EMERSON, (R) Missouri: Well, first of all, it was to continue the legacy that my husband had started. You may know he passed away this summer. It was to continue his–his legacy of common-sense, conservative government, keeping government off the backs of the folks back home, and, uh, to make sure that you always put people before people. We always ran very nonpartisan campaigns, and, and I’m very pleased that, uh, the leadership in the Congress, as well as the President, have indicated a willingness to work together and to have a more conciliatory approach to government. I think that’s real important. I’m excited about it.
MARGARET WARNER: Rob Riley, what’s your top priority?
REP.- ELECT BOB RILEY, (R) Alabama: I guess if I had to categorize any one thing outside of my own district that has its own particular problems, I want to see the agenda that the 104th Congress started, I’d like to see that continued. One of the reasons I’m in this race today is because I was very impressed with what the 104th had accomplished, the goals that they set out, and what they did in the last two years. I actually have a pendulum that my wife gave me at our victory party that said we had to shift back with this pendulum to the right, and one of the things that I ran is to keep pushing that pendulum to the right, so, you know, they inspire me in a lot of ways.
MARGARET WARNER: Ann Northup, what about you, what is your priority?
REP.-ELECT ANN NORTHUP, (R) Kentucky: (Louisville, KY) Well, I think very similar to what we’ve heard from the other members, certainly tackling the financial issues and having the courage to deal with those issues. It requires tough decisions. It requires us to be very concerned about the effects of what we do–to do it in a good way, a way that’s good for families, good for, um, the people in this country.
MARGARET WARNER: Debby Stabenow, your priority.
REP.-ELECT DEBORAH STABENOW, (D) Michigan: Well, I’m very concerned about the needs of hard-working families. We’ve got to balance the budget, but we have to do that while at the same time looking at the needs of families, people who feel squeezed on all sides, concerned about their children, their children’s education, can they afford to send them to college, what about their mom and dad, grandpa and grandma, will they have to have them at home with them to care for them? What about their own job and financial security? So as we move ahead and make the tough decisions to balance the budget, we’ve got to make sure that economic opportunity and growth is intact, and I–I want to invest in education and those things that will allow us to move forward.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Reyes, what about you?
REP.-ELECT SILVESTRE REYES, (D) Texas: Well, you know, I’m excited about the opportunity to work together. I think the last two years have shown this country that we can do a much better job if we work as Americans first. Representing a district on the border, I think we have–I have an opportunity to really frame the issues that affect border communities and, and, uh, I hope that I’ll be able to convey the importance that the border holds for the rest of this country so that we can all work in a bipartisan way, again, to get things done for this country and get things moving. I’m excited about that opportunity and that prospect this year.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you about something President Clinton said on election night. He said that he felt that the results of the election meant that the voters in American were really embracing the vital center, as he called it. Do you see that kind of a centrist message, and, if so, what does it really mean?
REP.-ELECT SILVESTRE REYES: I think, first of all, I do see that in terms of, of my own election. Uh, people are tired of, of the arguments on both sides of the–of the fringes, you know, whether you’re ultra-liberal left, or ultra-conservative right. I think most Americans feel very comfortable in the middle. Most Americans are interested in Congress addressing the issues that affect their every day lives–you know, balancing the budget, but doing it in–in a way that does not hurt communities, does not hurt working families. I think we have an obligation to work in a bipartisan manner to address those problems, and we have a great opportunity, and I hope–I hope the legacy of the 105th Congress is that we came here, and together we made a difference for this country.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, Jo Ann Emerson, you said that you wanted to work in a centrist way, but would that mean to you acting differently than the 104th Congress did?
REP.-ELECT JO ANN EMERSON: Well, there was a lot of rancor and, uh, polarism, I think, on the part of both parties in the 104th Congress. And I would hope that we can all work as a team to solve problems. There are a lot of challenges that we face, and I think that we need to put politics aside for a change and really focus on solving problems and, uh, and taking advantage of opportunities, rather than focusing on partisan rhetoric.
MARGARET WARNER: But, I mean, does that mean specifically that say you think Republicans should be more perhaps conciliatory on budget matters than the 104th Congress Republicans were?
REP.-ELECT JO ANN EMERSON: Um, I think that we all–we all need to sit down at the table and work out, uh, uh, answers to questions together. Uh, you know, each party would bring their specific proposal to the table. They wouldn’t talk; they wouldn’t get together and really talk about what’s going to work for the American people. And I think it’s our responsibility to–to rise above that and to actually sit down, put all the players at the table, and try to get problems solved, um, in a bipartisan fashion.
REP.-ELECT DEBORAH STABENOW: You know, I really hope that what does not ever happen again is a shutting down of the government. I think the message that I really felt coming from–from my state was that people really want us to be working in a way that understands that compromise is something that’s necessary in a democracy, that some reasonable common ground needs to be addressed, and I hope that one of the stark differences with the 105th Congress is that we will not see the government shut down, that we will see our ability to work through things, and if it moves in a particular direction, it doesn’t get out of the way there, then that we’re willing to accept that and move in an incremental way.
MARGARET WARNER: So, Bob Riley, where do you come down on this question? You’ve said you liked what the Republicans of the 104th did?
REP.- ELECT BOB RILEY: I really did, but one of the things that I learned as I traveled and have campaigned for the last year is that the people in my district are very conservative, probably one of the more conservative districts in this country, but the one thing that they did tell me is that they want the Democrats and the Republicans to work together. So I think–I think we have a good framework. We talked about that in the lobby a moment ago. Now, we’ve got two Republicans and two Democrats. We’ve got a bipartisan coalition right here, so–
MARGARET WARNER: And there’s a third Republican, Ann Northup–
REP.-ELECT ANN NORTHUP: That’s what I was going to say.
REP.- ELECT BOB RILEY: That’s exactly right.
MARGARET WARNER: Don’t want to forget–Ann Northup, let me ask you about how you see your freshman class, and particularly freshman Republicans. As you know, in the 104th, the freshman Republicans were really the engine behind the Republican Revolution, pushing Newt Gingrich, moderates in the party. Do you see your freshman class of Republicans in the same way?
REP.-ELECT ANN NORTHUP: Well, it’s probably–it’s probably an easier answer after this next week when you get to know ’em better, but I do think that there are a number of people that are coming to Congress that are Republicans that have experience in government that maybe the previous class didn’t have. I think there’s also the experience of what happened with the 104th Congress, and you learn from that experience. Probably some of the acrimony was related to the fact that there was an impending presidential race that’s behind us and also the fact that for the first time, the majority and minority switched parties, and that’s a hard adjustment, and we’re beyond that. So all of those things should help contribute to a better atmosphere.
MARGARET WARNER: Silvestre Reyes, how do you see the freshman Democrats acting as a group? You’re three times the number that Democrats had in the 104th Congress. Do you see a special role for what, the 43 new freshman Democrats as a group?
REP.-ELECT SILVESTRE REYES: Well, you know, that’s kind of–that’s a question that–that at this point we–we don’t know what–what our ability to work and what our, as a freshman class, what our priorities are going to be, because we haven’t gotten together. That’s what this week is all about, and–but, again, capitalizing on some of the same things that all of us have heard from our respective districts–and you’ve got to remember that we come from different parts of the country, and different and diverse regions of the country, but we’re all hearing the same message that we don’t want to see the government shut down, we don’t want this bickering and this partisan political animosity that existed the last couple of years, and I think we’re all committed to that, and I see that as a very positive, whether you’re Democrat or Republican. I think–I still think that the answer to a lot of our problems has to be the middle of the road, the moderate. That’s where most people are comfortable. I know that’s a comfort level that I’ve seen.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you see a special role for Democratic freshmen as a group?
REP.-ELECT DEBORAH STABENOW: Well, certainly it’s a large class. I think we do have an important message to bring along with say the first-term members who are Republicans. It’s my hope that as we move ahead–
MARGARET WARNER: Meaning this centrist message?
REP.-ELECT DEBORAH STABENOW: The centrist message. I think it’s more the message of making things work. That’s what we’re hearing from everybody. People want to know how does this affect their daily lives? Forget the ideology, the rhetoric, all of the partisanship. Does this have anything to do with my life? And that’s what people want to know.
MARGARET WARNER: But a lot of the ranking Democratic members on these committees are from the more liberal–traditional liberal wing of the party.
REP.-ELECT DEBORAH STABENOW: Well, one of the things that I’m hoping is that the speaker in an effort of bipartisanship will reach out and add a few slots to the major committees, so that the Republicans and the Democrats, some of the first-termers have an opportunity to go on those key committees. Uh, I’m sending a message to the Speaker right now, hoping that we can do that, because I do think that we do have something to offer, and we do have a large number of new members, and it would be a wonderful show of bipartisanship if the Speaker were to allow some of those new voices to be heard.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you, Bob Riley, about how you see the Speaker, how you see Speaker Gingrich. Again, in the 104th, he was able to call on Republicans to vote with him–sometimes they didn’t even agree–in the name of unity. Do you think he’s going to be able to exert that same kind of discipline?
REP.- ELECT BOB RILEY: I think so, yeah. What you’ve been hearing tonight I think will carry over into this Congress, but let me say something about the Speaker. You know, the Speaker set out a vision for this country basically three years ago. Most of that vision is in–has been enacted into law. We are now talking about a balanced budget, and the President seems to have signed onto that. So we’re talking about 90 percent of what he wanted to do three years ago has been accomplished. I don’t think–at least in my district–there’s no one that has a really big problem with what the Congress has accomplished, or the agenda that the Speaker set out.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think, Jo Ann Emerson, that Speaker Gingrich will have the same kind of authority with all the Republicans that he did last time?
REP.-ELECT JO ANN EMERSON: I don’t know that I would necessarily call what he had last time authority. I mean, he set out the vision. I think you had a class of freshmen who were elected on the Contract with America, and they had as much energy and excitement for what they were doing as, as did the Speaker. And I think that the freshmen drove an awful lot of the agenda, uh, together with the Speaker.
MARGARET WARNER: And do you see that happening again?
REP.-ELECT JO ANN EMERSON: I think it’s going to be different. I think that we as a class will–will be able to talk a little bit more about cooperation and bipartisanship. And I think that the Speaker certainly indicated that he wants to do that.
MARGARET WARNER: And Debby Stabenow, how about the Democrat leadership, do you consider–did you run with President Clinton, or did you run with or as part of a Dick Gephardt team? Who do you really see as your leader for the Democrats?
REP.-ELECT DEBORAH STABENOW: Well, certainly the President and Dick Gephardt, certainly both, in terms of our caucus. I would say it’s certainly Mr. Gephardt, but at the same time, the President is our President. He will be setting an agenda that we hopefully can–can work closely with and be supportive of. In my district, I ran very much as an independent. I have an independent ticket splitting district. People don’t want me to put on anybody’s uniform. They are interested in someone that’s going to be independent and standing up for middle class families in the district, so I intend to do that, but I certainly comfortably ran as a Democrat, with a very strong President laying out an agenda that I support, and I also support the leadership.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, thank you all very much.