Don't mistake last week's House Democratic unity rally on HMO reforms as a sign of reconciliation between Rep. John D. Dingell (Mich.) and his party colleagues.
Many Democrats are still fuming over what they saw as Dingell's devious tactics in joining forces with the National Rifle Association and House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) to kill Democratic gun control measures on the floor earlier this month.
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (N.Y.), the Democrats' premier gun-control advocate, whose husband was shot to death on a New York commuter train, stood next to Dingell at the rally, but the two exchanged nary a word.
Some Democrats say Dingell's collaboration with DeLay will be an issue next year if the Democrats win back control of the House and Dingell reclaims chairmanship of the House Commerce Committee.
Dingell's critics say they can forgive him for opposing McCarthy's measures to make it tougher for criminals to purchase guns at shows. After all, he is a former NRA board member and sportsman who for decades has opposed gun control. Moreover, Dingell has argued convincingly that conservative Democrats from marginal districts must be given wide berth on gun control.
But what galled many Democrats was Dingell's high-profile role in opposing McCarthy's measures--against the advice of House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.)--and his pushing through his own plan that loosened some existing rules requiring registered gun dealers to conduct background checks on buyers at gun shows.
"It was a clever [GOP] strategy to use the most senior Democrat to do their bidding for them," said Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.). "Dingell is the last of the old bulls and can be useful, but it's too bad he's being useful to the Republicans."
Some Democrats also said they resented Dingell's attempt to pressure Democrats on the Commerce Committee to back him up. "It became a very personal thing for him, and at some point he went out of bounds," said a House aide.
Dingell, 72, a powerful and sometimes menacing figure who has been in Congress for more than 40 years, denies he tried to strong-arm Democrats on his committee. He concedes that he was aggressive and "hit pretty hard."
The Michigan Democrat also dismissed complaints about him as nothing but unfounded gossip. He noted that no one has complained about his conduct--at least not to his face.
J. DENNIS MOSES?: The House and Senate are gearing up for a conference after the July 4 recess to thrash out differences over gun control and major juvenile justice legislation aimed at combating violence among young people. At a meeting with reporters last week, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) was asked whether he would insist that conferees retain a controversial House provision allowing the posting of the Ten Commandments in schools and state office buildings.
"Are there some things that might be nonnegotiable, for example, the Ten Commandments?" a reporter asked.
"I have not tried to negotiate the Ten Commandments," Hastert replied, showing he still has a sense of humor despite a rocky start as speaker.
SENATE SALUTE: A decade after the House began opening its sessions with a pledge of allegiance to the American flag, the Senate has followed suit.
The Senate agreed without dissent Wednesday to require a daily flag pledge after a constituent called Sen. Bob Smith (R-N.H.) to ask why the Senate did not open sessions by saluting the flag.
"I said, 'That's a good idea. Why didn't I think of that?' " Smith, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, told the Senate Thursday after it took its first pledge.
During the pledge, the young woman who started it all, Rebecca Stuart of Enfield, N.H., sat in the visitors' gallery, holding the flag that had been draped over the coffin of her husband's grandfather, a World War II veteran.
THE WEEK AHEAD: The Senate is entering its second week of trying to resolve a partisan dispute over managed care, which is holding up action on at least four appropriations bills--with no indication of how it will be resolved. The House will take up financial services legislation and could finally resolve a legislative dispute over the Y2K computer glitch problem.