Vote on House 'Managers' Draws Out Differences Among Freshmen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 7, 1999; Page A08
For a few minutes yesterday, as they listened to the first speeches delivered in the House where they sat among the 40 freshmen members, Shelley Berkley and Mark Green seemed as one.
They stood at the same time, applauded at the same time and every once in a while looked to their right to check on the wandering attention spans of the two children who sat beside each of them.
But Berkley and Green were on opposite sides of the ornate House chamber as the 106th Congress came into existence, and before the day was over they would cast differing votes on the great hangover left by the 105th: the reappointment of House "managers" to prosecute the impeachment charges against President Clinton in a Senate trial.
Berkley, 47, is a lawyer and a Democrat from Las Vegas, where she won a close race to succeed former representative and losing Senate candidate John Ensign (R-Nev.). Green, 38, also a lawyer, is a Republican from Green Bay, Wis., where last year he was the only Republican to defeat a House Democratic incumbent.
The first day of any new Congress is a moment of high hope, especially for the newcomers, and so it was yesterday for Berkley and Green. Berkley, who is divorced and will marry a Republican physician in March, was accompanied to the House floor by her sons, Max, 16, and Sam, 13. Around them, younger children, some clutching dolls, scampered up and down the aisles during the first quorum call while others curled up and fell asleep in the oversize chairs. Her sons are accustomed to her public life, said Berkley, a former state legislator and state university regent, but "this is still an incredible experience for them."
Across the chamber, Green kept watch on his daughters, Rachel, 8, and Anna, 5, who spotted their mother, Sue, in the visitors' gallery. "I wanted them to see, especially on a pleasant occasion like this, where Daddy works," Green said.
But it won't always be so pleasant, and the newcomers know that. The scars left by the bitter partisanship of the last Congress, and especially the impeachment fight, are still too deep.
"These are the remnants of what happened over the past few years," Berkley said. "We're going to have to clean this up."
"We were elected during a turbulent time with a lot of rancor and bickering," Green said. "My constituents don't want to hear that."
In his maiden speech as the new speaker, Rep. J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) did his best to set a conciliatory and bipartisan tone and won the approval of Berkley and Green. "It was a very good, very human speech," Green said.
"Very upbeat and pleasant," added Berkley. "I don't think generations from now people will be quoting the speaker's speech, but at this moment maybe it was the speech we needed."
The ebullient Berkley came to Washington with a clear set of priorities. She represents, she said, the fastest growing congressional district in the country. In southern Nevada, Berkley said, the key issues are nuclear waste, which her constituents want to keep out of the state, water, and "protecting my major industry" of gambling.
Green, who has a relaxed, easygoing manner, is a six-year veteran of the Wisconsin legislature, which has been in the forefront of enacting innovative state government programs. But many of these programs require the cooperation of the federal government. Winning that cooperation, Green said, is among his chief objectives.
He and Berkley are also acutely aware that reaching their objectives may hinge on whether members of this Congress can get along with one another more than their predecessors did. Both believe that freshmen members can play a helpful role in bringing that about.
On her first day as a member of the institution "you sense there are lingering scars," she said. "I believe it will be up to the freshman class, who are not personally touched by it, to start healing the wounds."
Green also said he sees himself as an agent of healing. "I think all the freshmen want to bring to this Congress a sense of not bipartisanship but nonpartisanship," he said.
But for all the talk of healing, there was one last piece of unfinished business from the 105th Congress and on this the two freshman divided along the usual partisan lines, Green voting to reappoint the impeachment managers and Berkley voting against. To Berkley, the burden of getting beyond the bitterness of the impeachment battle rests squarely with the Republican congressional majority.
"The Republicans have to make a decision whether they want to spend their time punishing Clinton for his sexual indiscretions and dragging this out or compromising in a way you bring closure to a very ugly episode in this country's history," she said. "The decision is clearly in their hands."
To Green, the impeachment battle has left the House, but its effects linger. "It may be out of this House," he said, "but it is not out of people's minds. The sooner it is the better."
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