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House GOP Nominates Hastert For Speaker of 106th Congress

By Juliet Eilperin
The Washington Post

House Republicans unanimously nominated Rep. J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., as their leader Tuesday, thereby ensuring he will become the speaker of the 106th Congress when it convenes Wednesday.

The message of the day was clear: Hastert will bring unity and civility back to the House. In a closed session on the House floor Tuesday night, GOP lawmakers praised Hastert for his ability to forge consensus and promote the passage of meaningful legislation, according to members who attended.

"He can unify the House of Representatives," declared Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts of Oklahoma at a news conference after the vote, where more than 100 lawmakers gathered behind Hastert to applaud him. "He's the right man at the right time."

Hastert, who received standing ovations, reminded his colleagues during the private session of President Abraham Lincoln's famed admonition that "a house divided against itself cannot stand."

The lawmakers who spoke on Hastert's behalf noted his skills as a coach and that he agreed to take on the leadership post only after being pressed to do so.

"Let's just make sure we don't try to change Denny," Rep. Thomas W. Ewing, R-Ill., said.

Lawmakers described Hastert as a dramatic departure from predecessor Newt Gingrich of Georgia. "We're moving away from the Newt era, which was a very centralized speakership," Ewing said in an interview.

Gone, too, was Gingrich's revolutionary rhetoric. Appearing before the cameras with wife Jean, Hastert pledged to find a "middle ground" with Democrats in an effort to restore the public's faith in Congress. "I'm going to meet the Democratic leadership and the Democratic Caucus halfway," he said.

Even Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas, a fierce Clinton critic, said that "nothing's non-negotiable" with the White House and praised Hastert for planning to meet regularly with top Democrats. "He's already figuring out how to be speaker of the whole House, not just Republican speaker, which is why we need him right now," DeLay said.