Skip to main content
ad info Allpoliticsallpolitics.comwith TIME
    Editions | myCNN | Video | Audio | Headline News Brief | Feedback  




Analysis indicates many Gore votes thrown out in Florida

Clinton's chief of staff calls White House over vandalism reports

Gephardt talks bipartisanship, outlines differences



India tends to quake survivors

Two Oklahoma State players among 10 killed in plane crash

Sharon calls peace talks a campaign ploy by Barak

Police arrest 100 Davos protesters


4:30pm ET, 4/16









Texas cattle quarantined after violation of mad-cow feed ban

CNN Websites
Networks image

Jonathan Karl: Legacy of Gingrich revolution leads to GOP power shakeup

Jonathan Karl
Jonathan Karl  

CNN Congressional Correspondent Jonathan Karl is reporting from Capitol Hill, where term limits on committee chairmanships forced longtime lawmakers to give up their powerful posts.

Q: What was the source for this Republican leadership shakeup of key committee positions?

KARL: We've had a major shakeup in the Republican leadership in the House, a fascinating story that is really the legacy of Newt Gingrich's Republican revolution of 1994.

Back then, when Republicans rode into power, they declared they would change the way Congress operates. One of the things they did was impose term limits on the real barons of the House, the most powerful people in the House. And that's the committee chairmen. Those term limits are now up.


Now, all of the old guard who have chaired these committees were forced to relinquish their chairmanships, followed by a rather ferocious battle over who would succeed them.

One of the most interesting things that came out of this shakeup is that Henry Hyde, the conservative Republican hero of the impeachment battle, was forced to relinquish his chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee. Hyde was forced to give it up, even though he pleaded with the leaders to let him stay and to grant him a waiver to exempt him from the term limits.

Then, Hyde had to battle to get another chairmanship, which he did get. He got a pretty significant consolation prize; he'll be the new chairman of the International Relations Committee. But he had to really fight for that.

That's what's interesting about this whole battle. First of all, you have all of the old guard forced out of these powerful positions, many of whom decided to leave Congress altogether. You had some of the biggest power brokers of the Republican Party just not run again -- people like Bill Archer, who had been the House Ways and Means Committee chairman; John Kasich, who had been House Budget Committee chairman.

Then, Bud Shuster, the controversial House Transportation Committee chairman and author of one of the biggest pork-barrel spending bills in the history of Congress, had to leave his chairman post. And on Thursday, he announced he is leaving Congress. He didn't cite the chairmanship issue; he cited health issues. But he's just the latest in a long line of big-time Republicans taking off.

Q: How were the new chairmanships chosen?

KARL: These guys had to do something that we have never seen in the history of the United States House of Representatives. They basically had to put on a dog-and-pony show and go through an interview process to try out for the chairmanships.

They had to make a presentation before a group of 27 Republicans on what they called the Steering Committee. To apply for a chairmanship, they had to come in and give a presentation. Some of them came in with slick folders and showed slide shows, proposals and business plans for what they would bring to these committees.

They had to apply for these jobs the way anybody else would apply for a job in the private sector. Some senior members objected to this process, saying it was humiliating.

In fact, one congressman, Thomas Petri, was considered for the favorite of the Education Committee chairmanship. He came in for his interview and basically said, 'I've been in Congress for more than 20 years. I don't see why I should have to go through this process.' And he offered no detailed proposal.

And not surprisingly, Thomas Petri didn't end up with the education chairmanship.

Q: Do the term limits extend to the House Speakership post, or are they confined to the committee chairmanships?

KARL: The term limits are six years, and in fact they do apply to the House Speaker. But they do not apply to the other House leadership posts like the majority leader. For instance, there's no term limit on Tom DeLay.

But it does apply to the House Speaker. So, if Newt Gingrich had somehow survived, this would have been the end of his speakership, because he would be entering his seventh year.

Of course, House Speaker Dennis Hastert is still getting under way and has another four years left before his time is up.

But it's really a fundamental change in the way Congress operates, because the old way was simply whoever had the most seniority took over as chairman. I think baron is the best way to describe them. They had their fiefdoms, and they served for chairman for years and years and years.

Henry Hyde is the only one who escaped somewhat unscathed, because he got another plum assignment.

But Henry Hyde made it clear that he is not somebody who would leave Congress, even over a matter like this. As a matter of fact, back in August, he did an interview with a Chicago radio station where he was asked if he would ever leave Congress.

Hyde said something like, "I imagine my last words of Congress will be, 'Sir, can you take your foot off my oxygen hose.'" So, he's made it clear that he would like to be the Strom Thurmond of the House. He never sees himself leaving as long as his health is good.

Q: Did Henry Hyde or any of the other Republican chairs object in 1994 to the term limits?

KARL: Nobody objected six years ago. This was a wonderful idea.

Of course, the Republicans were coming in. They hadn't been in power for 40 years. So, it was hard to even imagine six years down the road and what would happen when these guys would be forced to turn over their chairmanships. The term limits were really a gesture that was somewhat consistent with the rhetoric of the Gingrich revolution, which was, 'Let's change the way Congress operates.' They also gave chairmanships to people who deserved the posts, not just those in Congress with the most seniority.

Back then, it just seemed like a wonderful idea. Now, six years later, you see it had some unintended consequences. It forced a guy like Henry Hyde out of Judiciary and it also prompted a very bitter battle over who would take over.

And there are some wounds that are going to take a while to heal.

One of the biggest battles was over the ever-powerful Ways and Means chairmanship between Phil Crane and Bill Thomas. Crane has more seniority and was the favorite of the Republican leadership. But ultimately, Bill Thomas is now the new Ways and Means chairman.

Bill Thomas is considered somewhat of a moderate, but a very active Republican on central issues, especially Medicare reform. He is considered a hard worker, but also somewhat of a loose cannon who cannot be easily controlled by the House leadership. At the same time, he is one of the sharpest and most aggressive members of the House.


Friday, January 5, 2001


Back to the top  © 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.