Thursday, December 14, 2000
Lawmakers talk conciliation
Congress could test Bush's leadership
By Derrick DePledge
Enquirer Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON Texas Gov. George W. Bush's contorted route to the White House could muddle his authority with Congress, but many lawmakers believe the nation is eager for politicians on all sides to come together on its behalf.
The Republican would be the first president since Benjamin Harrison in 1888, and only the fourth in history, to arrive at the White House without a majority of the popular vote. This election was also the first time the Supreme Court of the United States, by stopping hand recounts of disputed ballots in Florida, had such a determining role in a presidential election.
The 107th Congress could test his leadership. Republicans hold a slender majority in the House of Representatives while the Senate is evenly split. Bush running mate Dick Cheney would be able to break ties in his role as presiding officer.
No modern example is available for how lawmakers, or the public, would treat such an unusually elected chief executive; but the partisan anger of the campaign could subtly undercut politics for some time.
At this stage of the game, people are more interested in action, said Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio. I think Bush comes to the table without the baggage Vice President Al Gore would have.
Mr. Voinovich said Mr. Bush may need a while to adapt to the personalities on Capitol Hill, although, as President Clinton did his first two years in office, he will have the luxury of working with leaders from his own party. An early clue to Mr. Bush's governing style will be whether his first budget reflects his priorities, a wish list of Republican ideas Mr. Clinton blocked, or some combination.
I'd try to get to know these people on a personal basis, Mr. Voinovich said. I'd convince them that I didn't think I had all the answers, that I was willing to listen to what other people had to say, and that I realize that if I'm going to be successful, that I'll have to work with them.
Republican lawmakers should recognize that Democrats could cause fits for the new administration if they perceive they are being steamrolled, he said.
We know we can't do it on our own, he said. That's over.
Voters were torn between Mr. Bush and Al Gore but generally agreed the government should tackle education, Social Security and Medicare reform. Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, said he sees energy behind ending estate taxes and the marriage penalty, by which some couples pay more in taxes than they would if they were single.
The message of the election clearly was that people want us to work together, Mr. DeWine said.
Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a policy adviser to Mr. Bush who observed some of the Florida recount, said the election should not be tarnished by what he called a bizarre overreach by the Florida Supreme Court to allow hand recounts.
Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, said the drawn-out vote count, while unprecedented this century, actually showed the strengths of a democratic system.
The clearest way to convince the most people in the country was to see the challenges played out to the final conclusion, he said. It's going to be easier for the winner to govern with some sense of legitimacy.
Mr. Strickland said Congress should again debate campaign finance reform, a major goal of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who did well with GOP voters on the issue in primary elections. The Senate leadership, with guidance from Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has fought Mr. McCain's proposals in the past. He also would like a prescription drug benefit included in Medicare, an entitlement both parties favor in theory.
I think this election was bad news for extreme ideological thinkers, both on the left and the right, Mr. Strickland said.
The Supreme Court's ruling ended the standoff just as it became possible that the election could be thrown into Congress. Republican protesters already had started to needle conservative Democrats like Rep. Ken Lucas, D-Ky. who never endorsed Mr. Gore about whether they would vote for the vice president.
Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, said the country might have been even more splintered had lawmakers chosen the next president and vice president.
This isn't perfect, he said of the legal finale. But it's better than it could have been.
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Local voters just glad it's over
Lawmakers talk conciliation
Ohio could reap the spoils
Tristate Republicans could win appointments
Kentuckians see friend in Bush
Tristate scholars consider lessons, impact of election
Impact on Abortion
Impact on Education
Impact on Environment/energy
Impact on Health Care
Impact on Social Security
Bush electors in the Tristate