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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly

Speaker's job has evolved over the years

By Bruce Morton/CNN

WASHINGTON (November 17) -- When outgoing House Speaker Newt Gingrich was still at his political pinnacle, he wielded considerable clout in Washington. But that power was not enjoyed by all his predecessors.

The first few speakers were figureheads. Then came Henry Clay, who wanted war with Britain in 1812, and stacked committees with members who agreed with him.

"Henry Clay turned it into a serious position of power, contrasted with President James Madison," said Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution.

Clay got his war. The speakership got weaker after him, but later really flowered.

"During the era of very strong political parties, around the late 19th century, the early 20th century, that was the era of the powerful speaker in American politics," Mann said.

There were speakers like Joe Cannon, Republican of Illinois, the man on the cover of the first-ever TIME magazine, the man who once doomed a conservation bill by snarling, "Not five cents for scenery!"

Finally, members revolted and limited his powers. And the job changed. Sam Rayburn, speaker from 1940 to 1961 except when Republicans twice won the House, said, "The old day of pounding on the desk and giving people hell is gone ... A man's got to lead by persuasion."

"The power flowed to committee chairs and the speakership became an opportunity to negotiate, to bargain, to try to broker deals that otherwise might not get done," said Mann.

Rayburn dealt with maybe a dozen committee chairmen, many of them Southern conservatives who disapproved of President John Kennedy's domestic programs. By the time speakers like Tip O'Neill came to power, there were more than 100 subcommittee chairmen. But speakers like O'Neill did begin to be seen, by colleagues and by voters, as national leaders. And then came Gingrich and the Republican revolution of 1994.

"Gingrich carried it much further than any modern speaker," Mann said. "In fact, his models seemed to be the powerful speakers, (Thomas) Reed and Cannon, at the turn of the century. Gingrich really saw himself as leading the country from the position of speaker of the House of Representatives."

But Gingrich was leading revolutionaries who didn't like to compromise. The result? He is the first sitting speaker since the Civil War to be sacked by his own party members.


Profile of Bob Livingston, nominated as speaker of the House (11-9-98) , Windows Media: 28K | 56K


Livingston nominated as speaker; Armey fends off challengers (11-18-98)

Gephardt, Bonior retain Democratic leadership posts (11-16-98)

Gingrich urges Republicans to 'pull together' behind Livingston (11-09-98)

Livingston moves a step closer to speakership (11-09-98)

GOP leadership hopefuls hunt for votes (11-08-98)

Republicans vie for speaker's job (11-08-98)

Special election for Gingrich seat likely early next year (11-08-98)

Gingrich says he didn't want to be 'a distraction' (11-07-98)

Who's who in the battle for the GOP leadership (11-07-98)

Gingrich's career: Highs, lows and a knack for survival (11-06-98)

Gingrich stuns Washington by stepping aside (11-06-98)

Reaction pours in to Gingrich's decision (11-06-98)

Gingrich's decision: How it happened (11-06-98)

Text of Gingrich statement (11-06-98)


Robert Livingston


Unintended consequences (11-9-98)

Candygram for Newt (11-6-98)

Big time spin (11-4-98)


SpeakerNews Web site


Message board - Newt bows out


Wednesday, November 18, 1998

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