By Stuart Rothenberg
Roll Call Contributing Writer
October 11, 2005
Once upon a time, there was a Congress. And that Congress was made up of leaders and followers. The most important among them were the majority leaders, their whips and, in the House of Representatives, the Speaker. And the leaders were powerful men (yes, Virginia, they were always men in the old days) who marshalled their troops on the floor much the way generals led their soldiers into battle. And the leaders were safe in the knowledge that they were invulnerable at home, let alone on Capitol Hill.
Sounds like a fairy tale, doesn’t it? Well, it is, at least these days.
Party leaders in the past have faced revolts in their caucuses or been defeated at the polls, but I doubt there has ever been a time when members of the Congressional leadership had as huge a bull’s-eye painted on their backs as they do now.
The recent indictments of then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay make the Texas Republican only the latest in a long list of legislative leaders to be driven from their posts.
Over the past two decades, the list includes Texas Democrat Jim Wright, California Democrat Tony Coelho, Georgia Republican Newt Gingrich, Louisiana Republican Bob Livingston, Mississippi Republican Trent Lott and now DeLay.
Wright announced in the summer of 1989 that he would resign as Speaker and from Congress after the House ethics committee charged him with violating 69 rules, while Coelho resigned his post as Majority Whip (and his House seat) in May 1989 following multiple allegations of financial improprieties.
Gingrich left the Speakership after the 1998 elections following two disappointing elections for the GOP and extensive ethics problems of his own, while Livingston’s tenure as Speaker ended before it officially began after his personal life became an issue.