43*

Free 43* by Jeff Greenfield

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Authors: Jeff Greenfield
him the post of chief
     deputy whip. And in 1998, when Speaker Newt Gingrich stepped down in the wake of his
     party’s poor showing in the midterm election, and speaker-to-be Bob Livingston was
     caught up in a sex scandal, Hastert became the default choice. If he was widely regarded
     as a figurehead—if most people thought the real power was held by the more combative,
     polarizing majority leader, Tom DeLay—well, Denny Hastert could live with that.
    Besides, it was not as if the political world was on the boil. After the pitched battle
     over President Clinton’s impeachment and the razor-thin 2000 election, a torpor had
     settled over Washington. There was only one story that had sent the cable news world
     into overdrive, and that was the disappearance of a young congressional intern named
     Chandra Levy, who was widely assumed to be sexually involved with Representative Gary
     Condit; the more feverish of talking heads were even suggesting that the congressman,
     a married father who spoke often of “family values,” may have had something to do
     with her disappearance. Otherwise, the narrow Republican majority in the House had
     proven disciplined enough to thwart just about every element in President Gore’s legislative
     package.
    Hastert gaveled the House into session and began to step down from the rostrum. He
     had a visit with the House physician scheduled; nothing serious, but with his weight
     and elevated cholesterol, regular checkups were something he built into his schedule.
     Just as he reached the House floor, one of his closest aides, Sam Lancaster, burst
     into the chamber.
    “I just saw it on TV—a plane hit the World Trade Center!”
    Hastert lumbered out of the House chamber, heading for his second-floor office.
    And then he heard the rumble.
    * * *
    It was, they agreed, a perfect late-summer day: the bright-blue sky, the sun glinting
     off the reflecting pool, the Washington Monument brilliantly white across the National
     Mall. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle exchanged pleasantries about the weather
     with his visitors, John and Annie Glenn. The former Ohio senator and his wife had
     stopped by for a visit, with Daschle and Glenn once again shaking their heads at the
     close-run 2000 election. At the end of that campaign, with Ohio just about dead even,
     Glenn—the most popular political figure in the state—had offered to cut a series of
     radio and TV ads for Al Gore. But the campaign had turned him down, pleading a lack
     of resources. Gore had lost Ohio by three points, and that had damn near cost him
     the White House.
    “Well,” Daschle said, “I know something about near-death experiences.” He had won
     his House seat back in 1978 by 139 votes.
    “It’s like DiMaggio said,” Glenn chuckled. “You know, ‘I’d rather be lucky than good.’
     And you sure got lucky in May.”
    The November elections had produced a 50–50 tie in the Senate; with the Gore victory,
     that might have meant that Vice President Joe Lieberman would be the tie-breaking
     vote that gave the Democrats control. But, like Lyndon Johnson and Lloyd Bentsen before
     him, Lieberman had hedged his bets by running for vice president and for senator. That meant he’d had to resign his Senate seat, and Connecticut’s Republican
     governor had named Representative Chris Shays, another Connecticut Republican, as
     his successor, triggering a strong dose of resentment from Democratic senators at
     Lieberman for costing the party a Senate majority. Then, on May 24, liberal Republican
     senator Jim Jeffords went home to Vermont to announce that he was leaving the GOP—he
     was fed up with the party’s intransigent opposition to every part of Gore’s agenda,
     especially the president’s proposal to support education for the disabled. That departure—and
     Jeffords’s decision to vote with the Democrats on organizing the Senate—meant that
     Lieberman would now cast the tie-breaking vote after all,

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