The '90s May Hold Lessons For The New GOP Majority Some observers see a striking resemblance between the incoming Republican majority in the House and the one that was elected in 1994, when a big GOP surge ended 40 years of Democratic rule in that chamber. But have the incoming House members learned from their predecessors?
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The '90s May Hold Lessons For The New GOP Majority

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The '90s May Hold Lessons For The New GOP Majority

The '90s May Hold Lessons For The New GOP Majority

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


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: NPR's Brian Naylor reports on what they've 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.

NEWT GINGRICH: 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.

JULIAN ZELIZER: 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: Former Democratic Congressman, Martin Frost.

MARTIN FROST: 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.

MICKEY EDWARDS: 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: Princeton's Julian Zelizer.

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: Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio is one of many who hopes to change the rules in the new Senate.

SHERROD BROWN: 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: Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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