Th’ Raypublican Party broke ye, but now that ye’re down,
we’ll not turn a cold shoulder to ye. Come in an’ we’ll keep
— Finley Peter Dunne, Mr.Dooley’s Opinions
We all know how dispiriting it must be to have the party held up to ridicule because a conservative part of the party continues to make trouble for the few of its members who have a semblance of (if often difficult to discern) good sense. The purpose of this column is to remind Republicans that this is not the first time they have found themselves at a place where a Speaker of the House decided to resign because of intra-party fighting. To refresh memories it is only necessary to go back to the departure of Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House in 1998.
Mr. Gingrich’s departure was precipitated by the 1998 election in which Republicans unexpectedly lost a number of seats in the House that they had expected to win. He was blamed by some in his party for the loss and a few hours before Mr. Gingrich announced his intention to step down, Bob Livingston, a Republican from Mississippi, announced his intention to challenge Mr. Gingrich for the position of Speaker of the House at the election scheduled for November 18, 1998. In announcing his resignation, Mr. Gingrich, used words that sounded very much like those John Boehner would use almost 20 years later. Addressing the press, he said: “Today I have reached a difficult personal decision. The Republican conference needs to be unified, and it is time for me to move forward where I believe I still have a significant role to play for our country and our party.” In a conference call with Republican colleagues he said, “We need to purge the poisons from the system.” (On January 3, 1999, Mr. Gingrich resigned from Congress.) Mr. Boehner, in explaining his resignation, said he was not being forced out by his colleagues but: “When you’re the Speaker of the House your number one responsibility is to the institution. And having a vote like this in the institution I don’t think is very healthy. “ The question on everyone’s lips is whether the successor to Mr. Boehner will prove to be of more admirable character than the person who was elected to replace Mr. Gingrich but never served or the person who was elected and served four years notwithstanding his subsequently discovered character flaw.
Following Mr. Gingrich’s resignation, Bob Livingston was selected as the Speaker-elect by the members of his caucus. He resigned before taking office. He succumbed to the effects of a campaign put on by Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler Magazine. The debate over the impeachment of President Clinton was going on and Flynt, critical of the self-righteous Republicans attacking Mr. Clinton for his affair with Monica, offered one million dollars for each story about sexual indiscretions by members of Congress he was given. One such story pertained to Mr. Livingston, and it revealed that although married, he had had affairs during the preceding ten years. Following that disclosure Mr. Livingston resigned as Speaker-elect and relinquished his House seat in May 1999. (Mr. Livingston was replaced in the House by David Vitter who subsequently became the first popularly elected Republican U.S. senator from Louisiana. While serving as a senator he admitted to having been involved in a prostitution ring several years earlier but said that he had requested and received forgiveness “from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling.” He also received forgiveness from his constituents. He continues to serve in the U.S. Senate.)
Since Mr. Livingston resigned from the House, it was necessary to find a successor to serve as Speaker. Determined to find someone with unimpeachable credentials, the caucus settled on Dennis Hastert and he served from January 7, 2003 to January 3, 2007. He was liked by all and was well qualified to serve. Just before his election he was instrumental in getting legislation passed to prevent use of the Internet to encourage sexual acts with children. A report in Politico said that at an Internet forum he held in his home district he said: “We must continue to be proactive warding off pedophiles and other creeps who want to take advantage of our children.”
On September 28, 2015 it was announced that he and his attorneys were engaged in discussions seeking a possible plea deal to dispose of two felony counts facing Mr. Hastert that were brought against him in June 2015 by Chicago’s U.S. attorney. A report in Politico said Mr. Hastert had allegedly paid an unidentified former male student $3.5 million over a period of years to keep the individual from disclosing “what was reportedly past sexual misconduct by Mr. Hastert.” The past misconduct may be the kind of conduct his legislation sought to prevent. On October 15, 2015 it was announced that on October 28 he would plead guilty to at least one of the charges that had been brought against him. The settlement will spare Mr. Hastert a trial in which details of alleged past sexual misconduct might become public.
I’m sure that all my readers join me in wishing the Republican caucus good luck in finding a new Speaker of unblemished character. They may want to do some background checks since, as the foregoing suggests, being a member of Congress does not mean the member is of good moral character.