Hastert Ready To Lead Another Session of 106th Congress

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:25 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - When Congress returns for the second session of the 106th Congress, it will be a second term, so to speak, for House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL).

The 58-year-old Hastert was catapulted into his position after the resignations of House Speaker Newt Gingrich and House Speaker-elect Bob Livingston. Livingston resigned from the House during the Clinton impeachment proceedings on the House floor in 1998.

Hastert assumed the position in January, 1999. First elected in 1986 to the House, he became the 51st man to become speaker of it. He got into politics after working as a history teacher and wrestling coach at the Yorkville High School in Illinois. Hastert is also a former partner in his family restaurant business.

Hastert represents Illinois' 14th Congressional district that stretches from Downtown Chicago into downstate Illinois. It includes part of Chicago's Loop, the Fox River Valley and cities such as Elgin and Aurora and St. Charles. The district also has passes through DeKalb and goes on to Kendall and Lee counties and includes Dixon, the boyhood home of former President Ronald Reagan. It is considered a safe seat for the Republicans and insiders say Hastert shouldn't have any problem at winning re-election this year.

In his first floor speech as Speaker in January, 1999, Hastert walked from the podium and spoke from the "well" of the House, an unusual move for a Speaker.

"My legislative home is here on the floor with you and so is my heart. To my Democratic colleagues, I say I will meet you halfway, maybe more so on occasion. But cooperation is a two way street and I expect you to meet me half way, too. Everyone on the squad has something to offer. You never get to the finals without a well-rounded team. Above all, a coach worth his salt will instill in his team a sense of fair play, camaraderie, respect for the game and for the opposition. It is work, not talk, that wins championships," Hastert said in his first speech as Speaker.

Kate O'Beirne, Washington editor, National Review magazine believes Hastert is the right man to lead the House at "the right time."

"He is a legislator. He's not a vision guy. He has no pretensions in that direction. He is a good manager with a five vote margin, especially in combination with (House Republican Whip) Tom DeLay. He (DeLay) is such an effective whip when it comes to counting votes," O'Beirne told CNSNews.com.

O'Beirne also thinks Hastert's lack of ego, compared to Newt Gingrich helped Hastert accomplish more during his first year as Speaker.

"The absence of that increases the good will he(Hastert) has. Members are very reluctant to disappoint Denny Hastert, when he needs them to do something. They feel as though, he took the Speakership in order to help all of them. It was not about him. It's not his own personal ambition. He wasn't seeking a big national role, he took it to be of service to them. And that engenders a lot of good will and good will goes a long way when he has such a narrow majority," O'Beirne told CNSNews.com.

However, syndicated columnist Robert Novak doesn't think Hastert's first year as Speaker was "entirely successful."

"He kind of lowered the expectations and the ambitions below the inordinately high level that (former Speaker) Newt Gingrich had attempted, down to more traditional and conventions aspirations. To make the trains run on time, you know, to get the bills passed and not to try to create a revolution and he was only moderately successful on that. The problem is, that there's such great expectations in the Republican base in Congress and just saying, well, you can't count on that much, isn't going to diminish the level of disappointment. Although everybody likes Speaker Hastert and he works hard at it, I don't think, his first year was entirely successful," Novak told CNSNews.com.

Hastert also has received high marks for his first year as Speaker from House Democratic Whip David Bonior (D-MI).

"He's a very decent and a good person whom I like and respect in terms of his integrity and his person. We worked closely together on a couple of issues, we consulted with each other during the situation in the Balkans and I think he was helpful in trying to move our country in a unified position to support our troops there," Bonior told CNSNews.com in an interview from his Michigan district office.

However, Bonior said that he and Hastert have differing views on many issues.

"He is to the right of center and I am to the left of center, but I have always found him to be a decent person to work with. I know that there's been some discussion, for instance, on the tax issue, recently with the President. I think we may be able to come up with a reasonably sized tax bill that will help certain areas. The President, as you know, has advocated, an EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) extension, both of us, Republicans and Democrats want some relief on the marriage penalty and they both agreed urban developmental tax proposals. But we do have some other differences. I'm hopeful we can get a compromise and work on a minimum wage bill before we end this Congress," Bonior told CNSNews.com.

Bonior also finds Hastert to be a better speaker than his predecessor, Newt Gingrich, especially in terms of credibility.

"The biggest piece of any leader is their credibility and their word. I found Speaker Hastert to be immeasurably better than the former speaker in this regard. He's someone you can work with and trust when you have a discussion, so I find him refreshing in that regard," Bonior told CNSNews.com.