"Out of town? I'm as far away from you as I can be and still be on the surface of the planet," I said.
"We can't have a vacuum for Speaker, so I need you to do this."
"Newt," I said, "there must be 10 press people within 20 feet of you. Have them do it."
"They won't get through," he said.
"What does that tell you about how we got to where we are?"
"This is not the time for that discussion," he said. "Will you do it?"
I said I would and hung up. The CNN Washington bureau chief in those days was Frank Sesno. I could see him on TV, so I waited until he left the set, called his office and told him what Newt had told me.
It was like that scene from "Broadcast News." He came right back on and told CNN's worldwide viewers what I had said.
I made the other calls and the race for Speaker was over more-or-less before it got started and Dennis Hastert was sworn in as Speaker of the House on January 6, 1999.
Yesterday, the Washington Times had an editorial calling for Hastert to resign and suggesting that Henry Hyde who "has a long and principled career, and is respected on both sides of the aisle" be the interim Speaker.
I don't have anything against Mr. Hyde, but it will not be lost on House Democrats that he chaired the Judiciary Committee which voted out the Articles of Impeachment and then led the House Managers in prosecuting the Articles during the Senate trial.
Henry Hyde, even though he is retiring, would not be the calming force the Washington Times editorial writers suggest.
For his part, Speaker Hastert has been a low-key but stalwart steward of the history, rules, and traditions of the House. Tom DeLay became the target of House Democrats in part because Hastert didn't give them any ammunition.
In Washington, this week, you would think that the Mark Foley scandal was the biggest thing to happen around here since 1812.
On that night in December of 1998, a President was being impeached; a Congressman renounced his claim on Speaker; and, the US was bombing Baghdad.
Nevertheless, the House righted itself. The Republic survived. And Dennis Hastert became a very good Speaker.
On the Secret Decoder Ring Page today: A link to the Washington Times editorial and to "Broadcast News"; a Mullfoto I really like; and a Catchy Caption of the Day.