RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And Im Steve Inskeep, good morning.
In a conversation the other day, one of the new Republican chairmen in the House of Representatives offered some perspective on his situation. During two decades in Congress, he said he's been twice in the minority and now he's beginning a second time in the majority. He says he will be mindful of his experience as a new Congress takes office this week.
MONTAGNE: The wild swings in power over the last two decades have at least given lawmakers a chance to learn from the past. Many Republicans who takeover the House this week were also part of a Republican victory in 1994.
NPR's Brian Naylor reports on what theyve learned.
BRIAN NAYLOR: In January 1995, it was a new world on Capitol Hill. For the first time in four decades, Republicans were running the show, chairing the committees, making the rules, setting the agenda. And Speaker Newt Gingrich presided over it all, surprising many with an uncharacteristic tone of bipartisanship.
Then-Representative NEWT GINGRICH (R-Georgia, Majority Leader): If each of us will reach out prayerfully and try to genuinely understand the other, if we'll recognize that in this building we symbolize America writ small, that we have an obligation to talk with each other, then I think, a year from now, we can look on the 104th Congress as a truly amazing institution, without regard to party.
NAYLOR: Sixteen years later, a new crop of enthusiastic, idealistic Republicans is poised to take the reins. And the similarities between then and now are striking, says Princeton University political scientist, Julian Zelizer.
Professor JULIAN ZELIZER (Political Science, Princeton University): In 1994, you had a class of conservative Republicans who saw themselves as part of the conservative movement, who felt closer to activists and political organizations on the right than to Washington. And they came into Washington to change the way things were done.
NAYLOR: But if the 104th Congress is remembered as truly amazing, it isn't necessarily in the way Gingrich had hoped. A budget showdown with President Clinton backfired, after Republican leaders made good on a threat to shut down the government. And Democrats say Gingrich's past as a partisan bomb thrower led to levels of acrimony that permeated Congress then and persist even today.
Former Democratic Congressman, Martin Frost.
Former Representative MARTIN FROST (Democrat, Texas): This really started with Newt Gingrich because he saw the path to power in '94 as to being the path of personal destruction of members, going after them on all kinds of ethical and personal basis, which wasn't necessarily the case prior to that time.
NAYLOR: Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma agrees. Now vice president of the Aspen Institute, Edwards says the polarization of Congress that began in 1995, contributes to an air of dysfunction that remains today.
Former Representative MICKEY EDWARDS (Republican, Oklahoma): Not only is there this excessive, hyperbolic focus on party, but if I disagree with you, I can't talk to you. I can't be civil to you. The idea of actually having a good relationship with somebody whose views are somewhat different from your own, has gone out the window.
NAYLOR: It's possible the lessons of that tempestuous time will be an asset for the new majority in the House.
Princeton's Julian Zelizer.
Prof. ZELIZER: One of the great differences between this class and that class is 1994, meaning they have a memory of what happened to those Republicans -both how they lost some of their political capital, and ultimately, how they lost some of their enthusiasm to shake up the system, rather than to be part of the system.
NAYLOR: Of course, not all the drama in the new Congress will be on the House side. Democrats who remain in control of the Senate are increasingly impatient with the ability of the Republican minority there to tie up legislation by insisting on 60 votes to even consider bills or allow presidential nominations to come to a vote.
Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio is one of many who hopes to change the rules in the new Senate.
Senator SHERROD BROWN (Democrat, Ohio): I think there's a strong sense in the country, that the Senate doesn't work the way that it should. People don't understand that, out of a hundred senators, why would you need 60 to approve a district judge that is noncontroversial.
I mean the Senate is too shrouded in mystery to the public, and too hide-bound in its traditions in doing the public's business.
NAYLOR: But Brown and his colleagues know theyll have an uphill path to climb to change those traditions. One of the toughest Senate tasks of all is changing the Senate rules.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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