Sometime during the Autumn of 1986 I found myself sitting at the kitchen table of a member of the Illinois House of Representatives who was running for Congress.
The reason for being at that table with candidate Dennis Hastert was to rehearse for a debate with his Democratic opponent. Hastert won the debate and won the seat.
Shift forward 12 years. On December 19, 1998 I was sitting in a hotel room in Jakarta, Indonesia.
In 1998 the GOP, then led by Speaker Newt Gingrich, was supposed to pick up seats in that mid-term election, but ended up losing five despite Bill Clinton being in the throes of the Lewinsky scandal.
The day after that election, Newt found he had lost the confidence of his Republican colleagues and, two days later, announced he would not seek re-election to Speaker and would not take his House seat when the new Congress opened the next January.
Louisiana Congressman Bob Livingston had the inside track and, with Newt's announcement, became the Speaker-presumptive.
On this particular night - late morning, in Washington, DC - the House was taking up the matter of voting on the Articles of Impeachment which had been voted out of the House Judiciary Committee chaired, at the time, by senior Illinois Congressman Henry Hyde.
The atmosphere on the House floor, I knew, was toxic, and when I tuned in to CNN I expected to see angry Members on both sides making their case for or against impeaching a President for only the second time in US history.
The first thing I heard was about a "shocker Bob Livingston." Having no frame of reference, I feared he had been in an accident, or had been physically attacked. It was neither. He had announced he would not be standing for election as Speaker and, in fact, would be resigning from the House.
This was December 19, a little over two weeks before the new Congress was scheduled to be sworn in. The last thing a weakened GOP needed was a leadership fight as the Senate was preparing for the trial of President Clinton.
The phone in my hotel room rang and it was Newt. He said, approximately this: "I need you to call the guys you talk to and tell them it's going to be Hastert." The "guys" I talked to were national political reporters.
I asked him if he knew where I was. He said he knew I was out of town.
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