The past is the prologue to the fight for the Republican president | ET REALITY


The speaker of the House of Representatives had been unceremoniously fired by colleagues unhappy with his performance and overly optimistic political predictions. Those who would normally be considered next in line had made too many enemies to be able to secure the numbers needed to take their place. The House was in total chaos as bombs fell in the Middle East.

The current relentless Republican turmoil over the House speakership has striking parallels to the turmoil of 1998, when House Republican lawmakers were also fighting over who would lead them in a crucial period.

Then, as now, personal vendettas and warring factions sparked an extraordinary infighting within the party that plunged the House into chaos. The saga took multiple twists and turns as Republicans cycled through potential speakers in quick succession, just as the GOP did this week. And in the end, they settled on a little-known congressman as a compromise option.

It’s unclear how the speakers’ current drama will end; Republicans left Washington on Friday after nominating their second presidential candidate of the week, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, with plans to return Tuesday for a vote but no certainty that he could be elected.

In 1998, Republicans moved quickly to fill their power vacuum in just one day, unlike the current situation in which they have let unrest fester for more than a week as they struggled to overcome deep internal divisions and anoint a new leader.

“That was pretty chaotic,” said Rep. Harold Rogers, the Kentucky Republican who was already a veteran lawmaker at the time and now deans of the House as its longest-serving member. “But it didn’t last long.”

Both dramas began when a Republican speaker lost the faith of some key colleagues. Far-right Republicans precipitated their party’s current crisis by ousting Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California from the speakership as punishment for working with Democrats to prevent a government shutdown. Twenty-five years ago, President Newt Gingrich, a Georgia Republican whose closest allies were turning against him, announced that he would not run for president again.

Gingrich, whose scorched-earth tactics had returned Republicans to the majority in 1995 after four decades in the minority wilderness, was finally burned after predicting Republican gains in the November election, only to lose seats.

Rep. Richard K. Armey of Texas, then holding the same majority leader position as Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana does today, was a potential replacement, as was Rep. Tom DeLay, the powerful No. 3 Republican whip who also He was from Texas. But both had political baggage that would likely keep them from the top job, and Armey faced a fight just to remain in the No. 2 spot.

Neither man even bothered to seek his party’s nomination, as Scalise successfully did on Wednesday, only to quickly discover that he lacked the support to be elected, leading to his abrupt withdrawal.

“They were both toxic and they knew it,” Fred Upton, the recently retired moderate Republican from Michigan who was in the House at the time, said of Armey and DeLay.

Sensing an opportunity, Robert Livingston, an ambitious Republican from Louisiana who had a solid bloc of supporters as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, jumped into the race for president and cleared the field. He won the Republican nomination unopposed in mid-November.

Livingston began setting up his new leadership operation as Republicans moved forward with the impeachment of President Bill Clinton as a result of his relationship with a White House intern. Many Republicans believed that the impeachment attempt had cost them the just-concluded election, but going after Clinton was a priority for DeLay, whose nickname was the hammerand he was not one to be deterred.

Then came Saturday, Dec. 19, when the House was set to consider articles of impeachment even as Clinton had ordered airstrikes on Iraq over alleged weapons violations, an action Republicans accused him of taking to avoid impeachment.

Livingston, who had not yet assumed the presidency but was playing a leadership role, rose in the room to urge Clinton to resign and spare the nation a divisive impeachment fight. But Livingston himself had acknowledged his extramarital affairs a few days earlier to his colleagues. Democrats began shouting “no, no, no” as he spoke.

“You resign,” shouted Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. “Resignations.”

To the astonishment of everyone present, Livingston did just that, saying he would set an example for the president and not run for president. The House was stunned as lawmakers took in the news, similar to the surreal atmosphere last week when it became clear that McCarthy would be removed as speaker after far-right Republicans moved to remove him and eight of them joined Democrats to move a motion. to leave the chair.

A mad scramble broke out to identify a new candidate for speaker. Names of prominent and experienced House Republicans were floated, but DeLay, a singular force in the chamber, was unwilling to accept any of them as a potential challenger.

He turned to a fairly innocuous Illinois Republican who had watched Livingston from the back row of the House, J. Dennis Hastert, a former wrestling coach who served as DeLay’s second boss and who would not be a threat to usurp much of its power. influence. DeLay and others told Hastert that he needed to step forward to unify Republicans.

By the end of the day, Republicans had approved the articles of impeachment against Clinton and had rallied around Hastert as the next speaker, a quick resolution that Upton noted was missing from the current speaker drama. He said Republicans should have acted much more quickly after the vote to remove McCarthy and install someone instead of recessing for the week.

“It would have been over with,” Upton said.

Hastert became the longest-serving Republican speaker in history before Democrats won the House in 2006. But his public career ended in disgrace when he was convicted and sentenced to 15 months in federal prison in 2016 for paying for cover up admitted sexual abuse of young fighters committed long before he achieved surprising power in Congress.

DeLay, his sponsor, was expelled from Congress over ethics issues, but his conviction for campaign finance violations was eventually thrown out by the courts. Livingston became a successful lobbyist in Washington. Clinton was acquitted by the Senate. Gingrich remains a voice in Republican politics. And Republicans still struggle with speaker issues.

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