New Republicans in the House
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KWAME HOLMAN: Since taking control of the House four years ago, Republicans had kept intact the leadership team that helped return them to the majority. But after losing seats in the last two elections, House Republicans will begin the new Congress with a slim, 12-vote edge over Democrats. And today they decided it was time to make some leadership changes. Gathered across the street from the Capitol in the Caucus Room of the Canon Office Building House Republicans — as expected — nominated Louisiana’s Bob Livingston, the current chairman of the Appropriations Committee to succeed Newt Gingrich as Speaker. Gingrich endorsed Livingston and the two men — with their wives at their sides –entered the GOP meeting together. Livingston’s election to the Speakership will take place officially in January when the full House votes.
REP. BOB LIVINGSTON: We want the American people to know that they’re going to get good, clean, honest, efficient government from us. We’re going to work hard. We mucked our message a little bit in the last elections. The American people held us accountable, but, as Abe Lincoln said, “A slip is not a fall.” We may have slipped, but we haven’t fallen. And we’re going to pick ourselves up and move ourselves forward and invest the Republican agenda, because that agenda is what’s good for the American people. And we hope that by the time we really roll our sleeves up and do the work, the American people will realize they really are conscious about working hard and working for us.
KWAME HOLMAN: This morning’s race for Majority Leader offered some drama. It turned into a four-way contest requiring several ballots to settle. 112 votes were needed to win. And the incumbent, Dick Armey, fell 12 votes short on the first ballot, followed by former pro football star Steve Largent of Oklahoma, Washington State’s Jennifer Dunn, and Illinois’ Dennis Hastert. When Hastert dropped out on the second ballot, both Largent and Dunn picked up support and Armey actually lost a vote. But on the third ballot, Dunn dropped out and most of her support went to Armey, giving him enough votes to hold off Largent’s challenge.
REP. STEVE LARGENT: Steve Largent has been too slow and too small his whole life, and this is just one more occasion, but that’ll tell you that I’m not accustomed to losing, and I don’t like to lose. In fact, that’s why I ran for Majority Leader, is to ensure that I never serve in the minority. And I will just tell you and pledge to you, our Majority Leader, that I will continue to fight for the things that we believe in as a party and as a conference to bring our party and our conference together, to be unified behind a clear and consistent message as we move to a very important election in the year 2000 that will include a very important presidential race.
KWAME HOLMAN: The message Republicans repeated throughout the morning was that their message hadn’t been communicated to voters before the election. During breaks in the meeting several members said that’s what leadership is all about.
REP. LINCOLN DIAZ-BALART, (R) Florida: The Republican Party stands for less taxes, a simpler tax system, incentives for new businesses and for new jobs. That message is the key Republican message.
KWAME HOLMAN: Was it felt that Speaker Gingrich was responsible for the failure to repeat that message and the lack of clarity of the message, and was that reflected in the room in any way?
REP. LINCOLN DIAZ-BALART: I think that what you saw with Speaker Gingrich’s fall is what you see in – you know – in the baseball world when a team loses a series of games, and often, the manager’s replaced.
REP. ELTON GALLEGLY, (R) California: We had a message; we didn’t deliver it. And, you know, we really can’t blame anybody else for it. People want to blame the media; they want to blame this. You know, if you have things that get in your way, you have to figure a way to go around it, to go over it, or to go through it, and don’t whine about it. The fact remains is we need a message that is on point; we need to speak with a unified so that the American public understands what we stand for. And if we – if it is consistent with what the American public wants, then we should be re-elected. If it isn’t, then that’s why we have alternatives.
KWAME HOLMAN: When the voting continued, Tom DeLay of Texas running unopposed was elected to his third term as House Majority Whip. But House Republicans rejected the bid of John Boehner of Ohio to return to fourth-ranking leadership post — chairman of the Republican Conference. Members instead chose Oklahoma’s J.C. Watts, a former Oklahoma College football star and the only African-American among House Republicans.
REP. J. C. WATTS: I’m going to Disneyland and celebrate.
JIM LEHRER: Now the views of four newly-elected members of the House: Republicans Ernie Fletcher of Kentucky, a physician and former member of the state legislature, and Robin Hayes of North Carolina, a textile manufacturer and a former state representative; Democrats David Wu of Oregon, an attorney and Jay Inslee of Washington State, a two-term member of the House who was defeated in the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress. First on the Republicans, Congressman Hayes, how do you feel about Bob Livingston and the leadership team?
REP.-ELECT ROBIN HAYES, (R) North Carolina: I feel really encouraged, really excited. It was a great day. We talked about things we needed to talk about. And competition brings excellence. I see excellence in Bob Livingston’s leadership.
JIM LEHRER: When you were running for the House of Representatives, did you dream that you would be serving under Speaker Livingston, rather than Speaker Gingrich?
REP.-ELECT ERNIE FLETCHER, (R) Kentucky: I really didn’t know that we’d be doing that, but I think all of us are very encouraged. I think as we look at the new leadership, just looking at probably a new vision, a new way of ministering the future and heading forward, so I’m very exciting about that.
JIM LEHRER: A new vision, Congressman Hayes, is there going to be that much difference between the House of Representatives on the Republican side under Livingston than there was under Newt Gingrich?
REP.-ELECT ROBIN HAYES: We’ll do a better job of governing. We’ll do a better job of organizing the House of moving our agenda forward. Newt Gingrich is a great man. He was a visionary. Bob Livingston is a great manager. His aircraft carrier analogy was great. We’re going to have a lot of activity on the flight deck, because we launch our agenda, but underneath that Republican cheer for more freedom and less government is going to move forward on the steady course.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Inslee, how does the new leadership team look to you Democrats?
REP.-ELECT JAY INSLEE, (D) Washington: Well, I suppose it’s a little different. We’ll see if the leopards change their spots. And, you know, we are appreciative, because everything I said, everything I gave a speech in my campaign, I said, we’re going to make sure we remove the speaker’s gavel from Mr. Gingrich. And they’ve already accommodated it, so even before we took the oath of office, but we’re hopeful. We’re optimistic. We hope that we’re going to be able to accomplish some bipartisan things this year and maybe because hope springs eternal in the human breast.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Wu, what’s your view of new Republican leadership?
REP.-ELECT DAVID WU, (D) Oregon: Well, I hope in that aircraft carrier that we’re – which was just mentioned – that there will be one Democratic hand and one Republican hand on the tiller because I think that with a razor-thin majority this time, there’s a chance, there’s a decent chance for bipartisanship and working on an American agenda that matters to folks on the kitchen tables.
JIM LEHRER: You mean, because there’s only a six-vote majority that the Republicans are gong to need you Democrats more than they have in the past?
REP.-ELECT DAVID WU: Well, I think that in part it’s because the majority is very thin. But, in part, it’s because the majority is very thin, but, in part, it’s because I believe that a lot of moderate Republicans have seen, as I’ve seen back home in Oregon, that what people want to talk about is preserving Social Security and preserving the environment and working on public education, and these are issues that can bring a group of us together, both Republicans and Democrats.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Fletcher, how do you see the jeopardy involved in only having six votes to play with?
REP.-ELECT ERNIE FLETCHER: As we saw today, as we elected our new leadership, I think looking at what happened on November 3rd brings a great deal more unity together, and the opportunity to really get our message out, which I don’t think happened as well last year, so -
JIM LEHRER: Why didn’t it, because it was – everybody said that in Kwame’s piece too, that you guys didn’t – you Republicans didn’t get your message out to the voters.
REP.-ELECT ERNIE FLETCHER: Well, I think we had in some areas – you know, there were 17 of us that came through that night and elected duly and when we talk among ourselves, it was the fact that we took those messages to the people. We took a very positive message. It’s those messages of less government, bringing the resources back to the people, saving Social Security, getting local control for education and lower taxes for working people. When we get those messages out to the people, we win. We had – actually in this election there were ½ million votes cast more for Republicans than Democrats, so I think we have the message; we just got distracted, and I don’t think that’s going to happen again.
JIM LEHRER: Have they got the message?
REP.-ELECT JAY INSLEE: Well, I think they’re sort of like the milkman with no milk in the truck. They’re good drivers, but I’m afraid they were a little lacking in the message. And to compliment my colleagues on the Republican side, no, they’re not just sleep walkers, and they weren’t just going to the beach during the election, they did – they had a failure – they had a failure of having a message on HMO reform, on tobacco legislation, on working on real Social Security issues. I don’t blame them for failing to be good messengers. I blame them for failing to have a message and we’re going to hope that six of them will join us on a bipartisan basis on some issues to deliver a message this year.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of messages, beginning with you, Congressman Hayes, very important business at the House of Representatives begins tomorrow with these impeachment hearings. Do you personally believe charges of impeachment should be brought against President Clinton?
REP.-ELECT ROBIN HAYES: Well, it’s very clear that the man didn’t tell the truth and he perjured himself before the grand jury. I tell my children it’s important to the eighth district in North Carolina that people tell the truth. And that’s what this issue is about, and we have the solemn obligation to protect and defend this country and this Constitution. So with that as a background, we move forward.
JIM LEHRER: In other words, you think he should be impeached?
REP.-ELECT ROBIN HAYES: No question.
JIM LEHRER: No question?
REP.-ELECT ERNIE FLETCHER: I am going to reserve judgment. I think we need to make sure we bring all the evidence and hear both sides. Henry Hyde, the chairman, is going to do that, and make sure that, you know, we have a fair and complete hearing. And I think that needs to be done.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Wu, a lot of Democrats have said this is not a fair and impartial hearing. What’s your view of that, the process? We haven’t had the hearings yet – the process getting to the hearings.
REP.-ELECT DAVID WU: Well, I think that the allocation of time that’s been worked out tomorrow is not very fair to Democrats or to the White House; however, I do believe very strongly, as some of my colleagues do, that we should get this thing over with quickly, fairly, so that we can get on with the issues that I’ve heard about on doorsteps and in kitchen tables, which are issues like Social Security and education. And I might add that in terms of issues and message, the Republicans who won, won on issues like education and Social Security, which are classic Democratic issues, and that’s where I think Republicans need to come if they’re going to be successful in the future and, in essence, I think that they’re going to be coming in our direction a little bit.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Inslee, was the possible impeachment of President Clinton a factor in your election in Washington State?
REP.-ELECT JAY INSLEE: Very much so. People were telling me very strongly during the election that they wanted a Congress to get back to work for the American people and they felt – and I think rightfully so-that the Republican majority had failed in that regard, that they allowed us to become wrapped around this impeachment axle. And in my particular race it was a very strong message sent that we want to get back to the nation’s work, that the impeachment avenue is not an appropriate one, and they sent me here to help us return to that course, and I think it was an unmistakable message to anyone reading the newspapers a few weeks – or a week or so ago that this nation has sent this message to Congress. And I think there’s been some signs a little bit that the majority has heard that message. I hope they’ll continue and act on that so they can finish their job to end impeachment inquiry so we can start ours.
JIM LEHRER: Did you hear that message in North Carolina?
REP.-ELECT ROBIN HAYES: I didn’t hear that message because it wasn’t something that I ran on in my campaign. I ran on the issues that we’ve discussed here tonight, and when the question was asked, I gave them the same answer that I gave you, so it is important to tell the truth, and we simply left it at that. The Republican Party is moving forward to win things that people care about. We have done things for education, like provide some competition, which is going to restore confidence and viability to the public schools. The PTA, not the NEA in charge.
JIM LEHRER: But if for some reason – Congressman Hyde has said he wants this thing wrapped up by the end of the year – so that means the four of you would not have to vote on impeachment – but let’s say it isn’t finished and let’s say you do have to vote – it goes into the next Congress – are the voters in your district pretty sure how you’re going to vote?
REP.-ELECT ERNIE FLETCHER: There’s no question in their mind at all.
JIM LEHRER: About in your district?
REP.-ELECT ERNIE FLETCHER: I’ve reserved judgment on that, and -
JIM LEHRER: And you told them that when you were asked about it?
REP.-ELECT ERNIE FLETCHER: I told them that throughout the campaign.
JIM LEHRER: What about you, Congressman Wu?
REP.-ELECT DAVID WU: I told them consistently that I would hear both sides out before making the decision.
JIM LEHRER: So when somebody voted for you in Oregon, they weren’t voting against a vote – they weren’t voting for a vote against impeachment?
REP.-ELECT DAVID WU: Well, I have to say that the position I took was not necessarily the popular one. I think there was actually a decent amount of pressure to get this thing off the table as quickly as possible, but I consistently said I’m going to reserve judgment and hear all the facts.
JIM LEHRER: What were they voting when they voted for you, Congressman Inslee?
REP.-ELECT JAY INSLEE: They knew the facts. They voted for someone who said that I would not support articles of impeachment based on the facts that are before us, and I really believe the American people had a very steady judgment on this. They’ve listened to months and months of the facts. They have a good grasp of it. This is not like there’s a great mystery out there that we’re going to learn much of anything about tomorrow. They knew the information; they decide it’s better for the nation to move ahead, to get to the work of the nation, rather than to be bothered with the impeachment issue. And I think they’re right on a constitutional basis as well. They feel it in their gut, but they also know that it should be a very high bar for impeachment. Stability in democracy is very important, and this is not one of those abuses of governmental power that I believe the framers had in mind when they talked about high crimes or misdemeanors.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Let’s – beginning with you, Congressman Fletcher, let’s go back to the leadership question for a moment. Did you come here as a member of the House of Representatives – do you see yourself as kind of an independent agent, or do you see yourselves as part of a Republican team and the new team headed by Livingston is – I mean, are you – did you come here to follow a leader, or what – how do you view your role?
REP.-ELECT ERNIE FLETCHER: Well, when you come here, obviously there’s a great deal we’ve got to learn – but I came with a message – what I campaigned on and told the people back home in Kentucky what I wanted to do and that is a message that is the central theme of the Republican Party, a conservative message. There’s been a lot of Democrats that have co-opted that message in the last few years.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Wu just accused you all of co-opting the Democrats.
REP.-ELECT ERNIE FLETCHER: Well, I think we can see in welfare reform and a lot of other things, we had a lot of co-opting going on, but what we’ve come here is to work on those issues. I think that one of the things again that I’ve seen very positive about on November 3rd was the unity that it’s going to bring and that’s in the majority and it’s necessary, we’re going to have to work in a bipartisan way, there’s no question about that, but we’ve got some major issues that we need to address.
JIM LEHRER: So you expect to vote with the majority with your party most of the time?
REP.-ELECT ERNIE FLETCHER: I would think that depending on what the issues are, we’re going to have – put out those issues that we believe that we’ll develop some unity on.
JIM LEHRER: How about you, Congressman Wu, are you going to be a Democrat all the way up one side and down the other?
REP.-ELECT DAVID WU: Well, I was elected by the people of the 1st congressional district of Oregon and I really have a responsibility to represent them, and this is an analogue of the tension between representing all of America versus the 1st congressional district and you really have to balance all of America versus the 1st congressional district and hopefully most of the time those interests will coincide and similarly there are times when voting as an individual member but hopefully most of the time the interests of the leadership and the way I vote will coincide.
JIM LEHRER: How do you see your relationship with the Republican leadership, Congressman Hayes?
REP.-ELECT ROBIN HAYES: It’s going to be a great relationship. I ran as personally wanting to be a part of a Congress that puts its faith in God, the people, not the government and more political program. My district knows very well who I am and they are very comfortable to a Democratic district. I represent everybody in my district. I’m proud to be a part of that whole movement that says the Republican Party is moving this country in the right direction.
JIM LEHRER: Your district was represented by a Democrat for many years.
REP.-ELECT ROBIN HAYES: Yes, sir.
JIM LEHRER: Right. Congressman Inslee, what – what do you – you and – Congressman Gephardt, Congressman Bonior, they’re your leaders, what does that mean to you?
REP.-ELECT JAY INSLEE: It means that we try to work together and we’re going to try to bring some of the moderate Republicans together with us to join us and hope that they’ll be as independent as I was in my first term. If you know my history, I was very independent in my first term here – ’92 to ’94.
JIM LEHRER: So you would vote for the Republicans if you were so moved without a problem?
REP.-ELECT JAY INSLEE: Did so on occasion, joined the Republicans on some bipartisan deficit reduction effort when I was here before. Now hope that there will be Republicans who will have the intestinal fortitude to buck their leadership and join us to have a strong HMO reform bill.
JIM LEHRER: But either of you see yourself voting against your leadership with the Democrats on an issue?
REP.-ELECT ROBIN HAYES: Well, I think we need to remind him who’s in the majority and we’re going to vote for that agenda that’s moving the country forward and the things that are important; and they’ve mentioned some; and that’s great, and we look forward to working with them on the things that we put forward, that they’re going to support.
REP.-ELECT ERNIE FLETCHER: I’m here obviously for the things I stood for and to represent the people. There may come times when we have to be an independent voice, and we certainly have to do that and you have to vote your conscience, what the people want and yet I think we can do that and for the most part maintain that unity because I think we have the right message for the -
JIM LEHRER: We’ll leave it and as we say in journalism we’ll see what happens. Thank you all four very much.