The timing couldn’t have been more awkward. As Republicans played the bittersweet role Monday of being hosts for President Clinton’s inauguration at the Capitol, they also prepared for today’s vote on reprimanding and fining House Speaker Newt Gingrich for violating House rules.
For this one day, there were no Republican news conferences, no defiant partisan GOP speeches and no orchestrated public attacks on Clinton. This was the president’s day, Republicans said.
Clinton took the oath of office with his approval ratings at a four-year high of 60 percent, while Republicans pondered how they can counter the president when the most vociferous voice among them, Gingrich, is under attack from within.
Gingrich, sounding muted as he greeted Clinton in the Capitol on Monday, called on his colleagues to “reach beyond partisanship.” Turning to Clinton, Gingrich said: “While we may disagree about some things, here you are among good friends, and here we wish you Godspeed.”
Republicans clearly hoped that Monday’s talk of bipartisanship somehow would dampen the impact of the vote on reprimanding Gingrich.
“We need to put the whole Gingrich vote behind us,” Rep. Charles Bass, R-N.H., said in an interview. “I think the point of the Clinton address was that the American people want us to put this behind us.”
Still, there was a sense Monday that Republicans had a going-through-the-motions gloom, playing an array of roles assigned to them by the White House.
Republican leaders had coffee with Clinton at the White House, escorted him to the swearing-in ceremony, held a luncheon at the Capitol in his honor, toasted him repeatedly and then sat by the president’s side in front of the White House while he reviewed the inaugural parade.
But Republicans also know that what goes around comes around. While Gingrich is in the headlines for ethical problems, Clinton has had his share of woes as well - and the heat on the president could grow much more intense amid potential Whitewater indictments, congressional hearings on foreign campaign contributions and the Paula Jones sexual harassment case.
As a result, the customary inaugural talk of comity ruled the day.
Clinton won his greatest applause when he said in his inaugural address that he wants to work with Republicans. Noting that voters had elected a Democratic president and a Republican Congress, Clinton said, “They did not do this to advance the politics of petty bickering and partisan politics that they plainly deplore.”
Similarly, House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich, speaking on NBC-TV, said, “I think there is a sense that everybody in the country has had enough of the back-and-forth name-calling. In a strange way, we might actually develop some bipartisanship.”