The man who would be speaker
Republicans see Hastert as a consensus builderDecember 20, 1998
Web posted at: 11:53 a.m. EST (1653 GMT)
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, December 20) -- He's virtually unknown outside the Beltway and his Illinois home district, but former high school wrestling coach J. Dennis "Denny" Hastert III is poised to become third in line for the U.S. presidency.
His aides say that Hastert has enough support among House Republicans to win election as the next Speaker of the House.
Hastert's emergence as front-runner capped a stunning day Saturday that began with the historic House debate over the impeachment of President Clinton and ended with two of four articles for that impeachment passed.
In between, both sides of the aisle in the House were rocked by speaker-designate Bob Livingston's announcement that he would not take the post, and that he was leaving Congress.
Within hours of Livingston's announcement -- which came after revelations that he had extramarital affairs -- Hastert had the support of Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Majority Leader Dick Armey, and outgoing speaker Newt Gingrich.
"On this historic day, it is a high honor and rather humbling that a great number of my colleagues have come to me and urged me to lead the House into the 21st century," Hastert, whose district lies just outside Chicago, said in a statement announcing his candidacy for the position. "It is a calling that I have not sought. However, it is a duty that I cannot ignore."
Consensus builder or right-wing partisan?
With DeLay on the phone mustering support for his deputy, Republicans quickly fell into step behind Hastert, most touting the conservative politician's ability to make friends and build bridges.
"He is respected on both sides of the aisle," said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Virginia). "He has strong support across the ideological spectrum of the Republican party, and, frankly, respect on the Democratic side."
Hastert may have widespread support among his fellow Republicans, but he is not seen an a man with a vision. That may be just what the Republicans need.
Gingrich himself told a closed door emergency meeting that Hastert was the man for the job, the Washington Post reported. A Hastert aide told the Chicago Tribune that Gingrich approached the Illinois congressman "within moments" of Livingston's announcement to ask him to pursue the speakership.
Two representatives who were reportedly considering a run for the office -- Oklahoma Congressman Steve Largent, who lost a bid to replace Armey as Majority Leader, and California Congressman Christopher Cox -- both announced they would back Hastert. The House leadership announced it would hold the speaker's election on January 5, the day before the 106th Congress convenes.
But not everyone sees the seven-term congressman as a consensus builder. Hastert's opponent for the House of Representatives two years ago, Dr. Doug Maines, is one of those who is not impressed.
"I think Dennis is very partisan," Maines said. "In my opinion, he's on the far right of the Republican party. I never thought of him as a bridge builder at all."
A voice for 'The Hammer'?
The widespread opinion among Republicans that he can pull various factions together is likely to propel Hastert to the speaker's chair in January. But some worry that the mild-mannered conservative will be little more than a mouthpiece for the more ideologically stringent DeLay.
"DeLay has a lot of power," Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Florida), told the Washington Post. "I always believe power should be diffused."
DeLay -- known as the "The Hammer" for his ability to persuade fellow Republicans to fall into line with his ideas -- has been dubbed the "de facto speaker" by Democrats since Gingrich announced he was stepping down in November.
Others say that's not likely to happen.
"(Hastert's) strength is coalition building," said Illinois pollster Mike McKeon. "He thinks he's an employee of the people. If you want a philosophical or ideological guy, that's not him."
"We need to function as a team, and I've always thought of Denny as the coach," said Rep. Jim Talent (R-Missouri). "I think he'll do that extremely effectively."
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