Skip to comments.Profile: Speaker of the House Hastert (IRS elimination, Sandy Berger update)
Posted on 08/30/2004 4:32:47 PM PDT by Libloather
Profile: Speaker of the House
Mon Aug 30, 9:40 AM ET
By Rudolph Bush Tribune staff reporter
Overlooking the vast lawn of an estate tucked against the blue-gray beauty of the Wasatch mountains, Dennis Hastert stood up in a rumpled suit, adjusted his oversized glasses and began to speak.
There is a philosophical gap in this country, and the crossroads are just ahead, the speaker of the House told the small crowd of big-dollar donors sitting before him earlier this month.
"We need to control the ball," said the one-time high school wrestling coach. "If the other guy controls the ball, we're playing defense, and you don't score when you're playing defense."
For Hastert, 62, this has been a year of offense, an evolution in style that has seen the once generally private and avuncular speaker--a man who often said his title should be "listener," not "speaker"--engage in the public partisan battles of Washington as never before.
In addition to providing a resounding echo for President Bush, he has gone beyond the administration's statements, spreading a deeply conservative, and in some cases divisive, message.
His recently published autobiography, "Speaker," a book that slams top Democrats, also takes issue with several top Republicans and puts forward an agenda that includes the possibility of eliminating altogether the federal income tax and the Internal Revenue Service.
This week, Hastert gavels to order the Republican National Convention, a largely ceremonial job but one that will put the generally low-profile speaker in the public eye.
"He is out on offense right now, and it's good for the party, it's good for the administration, and it's good for him," said Joe Gaylord, a Republican political consultant who helped Newt Gingrich engineer the GOP's takeover of the House in 1994.
Still, some wonder if Hastert's newly harsh tone will affect his ability to work with Democrats or tarnish his image as a decent, plain-spoken man in a city of sharks.
"Much of this goes against the stereotype that Hastert is an amiable, affable guy but that [House Majority Leader Tom] DeLay really is in charge," said Norman Ornstein, a congressional expert at the American Enterprise Institute. "That is not the case."
Historically, the speaker of the House has tried to avoid open partisanship because of his constitutional role as an officer of the entire body, Ornstein said. But while top Democrats say they get along with Hastert personally, they have noticed a marked shift in his approach.
When the president came under fire in June because the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks found no evidence of collaboration between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, Hastert charged that the media had distorted the commission's claims and said the report showed that Hussein and Osama bin Laden were, in fact, developing ties.
A commission spokesman said soon after that the panel had found no evidence of collaboration, even on a broad level, though Hastert continues to cite Al Qaeda's connections to terrorists in northern Iraq.
In another incident that signaled a change, Hastert harshly criticized Samuel "Sandy" Berger, former national security adviser to President Bill Clinton, when Berger acknowledged taking documents--unintentionally, he said--from the National Archives in July.
Attack on Berger
"Mr. Berger apparently skirted the law and removed highly classified documents, purportedly in his pants . . . and then proceeded to lose or destroy some of them," Hastert said in a prepared statement. "Was Mr. Berger trying to cover up facts regarding the intelligence failures during his watch?"
The tone, even in a city where such spats are commonplace, stunned some Democrats.
"I thought that was pretty brutal in terms of what he did with the Sandy Berger comments," said Rep. Robert Matsui (D-Calif.). "I was actually surprised because that's a side of him I had not seen in all the years he had been in the Congress."
Some Democrats are convinced that Hastert is acting at the behest of the White House, voicing the administration's message in a sharper, more partisan tone than the Bush administration is willing to use itself. Hastert denies that.
He readily acknowledges, however, that he has shifted his tone, saying he has consciously changed his approach because he believes the stakes of the upcoming presidential and congressional elections are so high.
"If I have to be a more public face, I'm willing to do it," he said in an interview.
Such a role is all the more surprising given the history of Hastert's rise to power.
He was chosen as speaker on Dec. 19, 1998, the day the House impeached Clinton and that Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.)--the man expected to replace Speaker Gingrich--resigned over his marital infidelity.
Hastert was seen as a calming presence and one without the antagonistic persona of Gingrich or DeLay.
"He stepped up under extreme circumstances and was the steadying hand that was needed to keep the House from flying into chaos," Livingston said.
Almost six years later and firmly ensconced as speaker, Hastert has begun to show a decidedly different side. This year, he has lashed out at lawmakers from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y).
When McCain suggested the country forgo tax cuts during a time of war as a public sacrifice, Hastert suggested that McCain, a veteran who spent six years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, did not understand the meaning of sacrifice and suggested he visit wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
In his book, Hastert also slammed Clinton and a number of other New York officials for what he described as a money grab after the Sept. 11 attacks. The statements earned him a front-page picture and headline in the Aug. 25 edition of the New York Post. The huge type beside Hastert's face read "Speaker of the Louse."
The speaker shrugs at public antipathy, especially from Democrats and the media, but in a recent interview in Denver, as he unwound from yet another speech, he wondered if the changes he has made have, in fact, changed him.
"Have I become a harder person? Have I become a more skeptical person, a less trustful person? Maybe. I don't think so myself," he said. "In this job you have to face the same kind of problems day in and day out, and maybe sometimes I find myself becoming a little less sympathetic."
Despite sharp partisan division, Hastert has pushed major legislation through the House, including an enhancement of Medicare and two key tax cuts.
He's in charge
Opponents acknowledge he runs a disciplined GOP caucus, although on issues such as campaign finance reform and the patients' bill of rights, legislation that would regulate health insurers, a number of Republicans voted outside the leadership's wishes.
Maintaining the slim GOP majority is a constant worry for the speaker and is his top political priority.And it comes at a time when he is talking publicly about what he might do if he leaves office.
"There's a lot of things you maybe would like to do," he told C-SPAN interviewer Brian Lamb. "You know, there's some ambassadorships maybe I would like to do. And I have a great interest in Japan. I've got some interest in Europe."
Asked later about fulfilling that interest, he brushed it off, saying, "I'm not sure my wife would ever want to do that."
And while he also insists he will continue as speaker, Hastert talks increasingly openly about the length of his service.
"This is my fourth term, and you know a predecessor of mine said one time, `The longer you float your boat, the more barnacles you are going to accumulate,'" he said recently before a book-signing in Denver.
Unless, of course, you're playing the Bears...
Haster is out of control lately and I like it.
The other day he commented that George Soros was somehow connected to drug cartels. It kind of shocked the interviewer.
I'm getting very bored listening to the same ol' ... "There must be something wrong with __________ . He/she wouldn't act/speak that way on their own ... it has to be the command from the White House."
The socialists are truly mentally deranged to think that no one can think and speak for themselves.
It's called projection.
For instance, Nancy P was silenced by Kerry.
Uhmmmmmm.........Could Denny-boy and Georgie-boy get together and have a chitty chat?
The tone, even in a city where such spats are commonplace, stunned some Democrats.
The image that comes to mind is that of the corrupt French cop in Casablanca who was shocked, shocked, to discover gambling underfoot.
The Democrats know precisely what Berger was doing, and that it was anything but inadvertent.
Actually, I seem to recall that Denny said he didn't know whether Soros's group's money was connected to drugs.
Hastert for President '08!
"Actually, I seem to recall that Denny said he didn't know whether Soros's group's money was connected to drugs."
True. However he did bring it up while on the subject of 527 groups which seemed to leave the interviewer a little shocked for a second.