WASHINGTON, D.C. -- House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, a 64-year-old ex-high school wrestling coach, ordinarily is not a shouter. But according to Capitol Hill sources, he engaged in a high decibel rant last week when he met with Vice President Dick Cheney. The speaker was enraged by the sacking of his friend and former colleague, Porter Goss.
Hastert was so vituperative that a private session with President George W. Bush in the living quarters of the White House was scheduled immediately (although Hastert aides said the meeting had been planned previously). The speaker toned down his volume on the hallowed ground and did more listening than talking. But the president did not slake Hastert's wrath over the abrupt sacking of Goss as CIA director.
That wrath reflects the feeling in the House Republican cloakroom that Goss, who gave up a safe congressional seat from Florida for a thankless cleanup mission at the CIA, is being made a scapegoat for the government's intelligence mess. But Hastert's discontent goes beyond the CIA. The GOP mood on Capitol Hill, particularly the House, is poisonous. With pessimism rising over a contemplated loss of their majority in the 2006 elections, Republican lawmakers blame their parlous condition on Bush's performance.
Cheney was on the Hill last week to receive the Distinguished Service Award, along with three other former House members: Lindy Boggs, Father Robert Drinan and Goss. To Hastert and his Republican colleagues, this was inadequate compensation for Goss' shabby treatment.
Hastert had urged Goss to postpone his retirement and seek another term in Congress, and Bush then talked Goss into taking on the arduous mission of bringing the CIA under presidential control. Two days before Goss was shown the door, Hastert met with John Negroponte. The director of national intelligence gave the speaker no hint that Hastert's friend at the CIA was being fired.
Hastert, who served with Cheney in the House for two years (1987-88), let the vice president have it in their private meeting. He said he trusted his close friend Goss, who had performed well at the nasty job of cleaning out an agency filled with critics of the president and his policies. The speaker made clear he considered the crude treatment of Goss a personal insult.
Cheney took this so seriously that he quickly scheduled a White House meeting of Bush and Hastert (that did not appear on public schedules of either the president or the speaker). With the vice president sitting in, Bush expressed his high regard for Goss. Hastert had criticized the choice of Gen. Michael Hayden as Goss' successor, and Bush urged the speaker to support the nominee.