Winning back-to-back majorities in the House and Senate for the first time since 1930, Republicans see an opportunity to consolidate a hold on Congress and keep pressure on President Clinton to compromise.
Clinton, intent on compiling a legacy during his second term, called on Congress for cooperation in his victory speech Tuesday night. “It is time to put politics aside and join together and get the job done,” he said.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, who are expected to keep their positions in the 105th Congress, indicated a willingness Wednesday to work with Clinton, but on their terms.
Lott said, in essence, that if President Clinton does what the Republicans want, they’ll make progress together.
“He ran to the center, he ran to the right, he ran on top of our lines in many instances,” the Mississippi Republican said. “If he’s serious about those things and if he works in that direction, we’re going to be able to do some good things for the American people.”
“Assuming that 1997 is a continuation of what he campaigned on this year, there’s no reason that we can’t find common ground.”
Also working against bipartisan cooperation is the ongoing investigation into Clinton ethics.
Lott said questions about foreign fund-raising by the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee would fall swiftly under congressional scrutiny in January. Prominent among the questions is whether the Clinton administration peddled access and influence to major fund-raisers such as the Lippo Group of Indonesia.
But Democrats aren’t the only ones caught up in questions of ethics.
Rep. Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat, suggested Gingrich may have a more difficult time leading the new Congress because of the House Ethics Committee’s investigation into the ways he raised money for GOP candidates. The committee came under fire before the election for refusing to release an independent counsel’s report.
Rep. Nancy Johnson, a Republican from Connecticut who is chairwoman of the Ethics Committee, barely survived her re-election bid. “She had difficulty for one reason only, Newt’s ethics problems,” Frank said.
Frank also suggested Gingrich may not be able to maintain the discipline within the Republican ranks because many GOP candidates were re-elected because they distanced themselves from him.
“Clinton is still the most potent force in Washington, and I think Newt is on the defensive,” he said. “They will have a tough time putting a budget together.”
Last-minute advertising, paid for by cash infusions by the Republican Party’s Washington-based campaign committees, and GOP strength in the South, Southwest and Plains states, helped the GOP increase its ranks in the Senate and preserve a narrow majority in the House. Republicans collectively were better financed than Democrats, despite the unprecedented $35 million outlay by labor unions for advertising that targeted Republicans.
The results make the House Republican Conference slightly more southern and conservative and the Democratic caucus more northern and liberal
Lott will be presiding over a strengthened GOP majority in the Senate in January. With an Oregon race still unsettled, Republicans will have at least 54 seats, one more than in the 104th Congress. That likely will translate into larger majorities on some or all committees, giving Republicans a freer hand in drafting legislation.
In the House, Republicans lost 22 seats, 18 held by incumbent House members and four open seats. Three races, including the seat held by Rep. Robert Dornan of California, are so close that they will require a recount. There are also two runoffs in Texas.
Only three Democratic House incumbents lost this week, but Republicans won 10 seats left open by retiring Democrats, seven in the South and Southwest.
Only 14 of the 72 Republican freshmen seeking re-election were defeated, about half the number that Democrats hoped to knock out. The AFL-CIO took credit for helping to beat 18 incumbents including two in California, the two Massachusetts Republicans, two in North Carolina, two in Ohio, and three in Washington state, one in Connecticut and one in Maine.
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