KWAME HOLMAN: This morning, nearly 200 members of the House of Representatives -- Democrats and Republicans -- were all aboard at Washington's Union Station.
SPOKESMAN: Here we are bipartisanship.
KWAME HOLMAN: Their destination, a three-day congressional retreat in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Many members took along their spouses and children, but, it was hoped, left behind their contentious issues.
REP. JOSEPH CROWLEY, (D) New York: I hope by the end of this trip, this weekend, I can lay a big Hershey kiss on a Republican, preferably a female.
KWAME HOLMAN: The idea behind the retreat is to allow members to get together in a more comfortable surrounding, away from Washington, away from the partisan battles on Capitol Hill, to search for the civility so often missing from the House in recent years. Ohio Democrat Thomas Sawyer and Illinois Republican Ray LaHood organized the getaway in hopes members could better work together when they returned.
REP. THOMAS SAWYER, (D) Ohio: Hershey offers a constructive opportunity to rebuild the working capacity of this institution to deal with some of the toughest long-term problems that the nation can face for the foreseeable future, in terms of extending the solvency of Social Security and Medicare, the educational systems, what we do with the fund balance that is in the budget today.
REP. RAY LaHOOD, (R) Illinois: When our emotions are stirred up, it is a reflection of how people in the country are feeling about things. And so from time to time we have flare-ups in our community, and I suppose we need to suspect that from time to time we'll have them in the House.
KWAME HOLMAN: "Flare-ups" is one way to describe what happened on almost a daily basis during the impeachment of President Clinton.
REP. MAXINE WATERS: I'm just saying to you, Mr Chairman, you can't half-step, you can't half do it. Either you're going to do it, or you're not going to do it.
REP. HENRY HYDE: Yes, but we'll do it our way, if you don't mind.
REP. MAXINE WATERS: Ooh, that's quite obvious. You've been very partisan on this. Thank you.
REP. HENRY HYDE: All time has expired.
KWAME HOLMAN: Nothing symbolized the sharp partisan divide on this issue more than events on the day the votes were cast on four articles of impeachment. Angry over the Republican leadership's refusal to allow a separate vote on censure of the President, Democrats briefly left the chamber.
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: We are deeply offended by this process. It was partisan and unfair.
KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans, in turn, were angry about what they described as a Democratic "pep rally" in support of the President immediately following the votes.
REP. RAY LaHOOD: There's a residue of hard feeling as a result of what we were involved with late last year.
REP. THOMAS SAWYER: I don't suppose that's news to anyone, but it has made this kind of effort just that much more difficult, and I think that much more important.
KWAME HOLMAN: LaHood and Sawyer say they had much success convincing many of this year's incoming freshmen members to participate in this weekend's retreat.
REP. RAY LaHOOD: But we've had more difficulty with some of our more senior members encouraging them to come.
KWAME HOLMAN: But the top House leaders from both parties are attending.
REP. CHRISTOPHER COX, Chairman, Republican Policy Committee: Hershey's about finding our common ground, finding the things that we all agree upon and even if that's only the manner in which Congress should work. We don't have to agree on what the tax rate's going to be, but we need to agree on what we're all trying to do within this institution to make it work better for the country. And it's going to be a great opportunity.
REP. DAVID BONIOR, Minority Leader: I'm encouraging that each of us talk to each other, be honest with each other and listen to each other so we can restore the faith in the democracy, which unfortunately, has waned over the last decade. With that spirit, I think we go to Hershey and with that spirit, I think we will come back better people and we'll have a better institution.
KWAME HOLMAN: Third-term Republican Joe Scarborough of Florida is attending, as well. He did not go to the first Hershey retreat two years ago. That get-together was organized to soften the hard partisan feelings that resulted from the temporary shutdown of the government. Scarborough said he decided to attend this retreat after a Democratic colleague compared to him to an infamous serial killer.
REP. JOE SCARBOROUGH, (R) Florida: I think it really came home to me how important the retreat might be when I was taking my parents out the first night back in the 106th Congress, and I went up to introduce them to a Democratic friend who started calling me Jeffrey Dahmer, saying, "You Republicans are just like Jeffrey Dahmer, and you're just like Jeffrey Dahmer," and just went on this tirade about what's been going on over the past year or two. I turned to my parents and I said, "Welcome to Washington."
KWAME HOLMAN: California Democrat Nancy Peloisi did attend that first retreat two years ago, and decided to go again.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) California: I always said it, I don't think sitting around in a circle and singing "Kumbaya" with the Republicans was going to change the fact that we have very serious policy differences with them. But to the extent that we can know each other better and communicate more civilly, I think the public interest is served.
KWAME HOLMAN: But the impeachment process still weighs heavily with Pelosi. She says Republicans were more interested in derailing the President's agenda than in fulfilling a constitutional duty.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Really, the Republicans were drawing a line in the sand, saying to the Democrats, "This is all-out warfare and it's not only about him; it's about your agenda." We saw it as a blatant political action on the part of the Republicans, and you can meet in Hershey, Pennsylvania and eat candy kisses from morning until night, but if you start impeaching the President on a political basis, it will -- any of that camaraderie will quickly evaporate, and it did.
REP. JOE SCARBOROUGH: There are a lot of Democrats who felt like Republicans had engaged in a witch hunt against the President, and there are an awful lot of Republicans who felt the Democrats were very cavalier about the law, and about justice, and also very cavalier about the politics of personal destruction; that anybody that crossed their President had a target on their back, and they could be destroyed. Then, unfortunately, I think this last episode really is just the latest chapter in a decline of civility in Washington.
KWAME HOLMAN: What's wrong with being "partisan?"
REP. THOMAS SAWYER: Nothing.
REP. RAY LaHOOD: Well, there's nothing wrong with it, as a matter of fact. But there ought to be a way to conduct the people's business that lends civility and dignity to what we're doing here.
KWAME HOLMAN: All seem to agree Congress now has only a narrow window of opportunity to accomplish much of substance before the political focus turns entirely toward the year 2000 elections.
REP. RAY LaHOOD: As we get into the presidential campaign, beginning probably later this fall or early next year, we know that things are going to -- probably some things will break down along party lines.
REP. THOMAS SAWYER: If we simply dig in our heels, we will miss enormous opportunities, and the place will become partisan very quickly. I don't think that's going to happen.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Republican Joe Scarborough says he almost can guarantee that it will.
REP. JOE SCARBOROUGH: And I say that only because Dick Gephardt is five seats away from being Speaker of the House. I mean, when he wakes up in the morning, he's thinking how do I defeat the Republicans, how do I take six seats? When he goes to sleep at night, that's the last thought on his mind. He dreams it.
KWAME HOLMAN: Democrat Pelosi says she dreams it as well.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: We're confident we're going to win in November, and I hope the Republicans will not resort to drastic actions when they see the inevitability of the American people responding to our message, to our superior candidates.
KWAME HOLMAN: At least for this weekend however, Republicans and Democrats who made the trip to Hershey intend to keep the peace. And to show how serious they are about maintaining that goal, they've invited John Hume, who won last year's Nobel Prize for brokering a peace agreement in Ireland, to deliver the keynote address.