Clinton, Gingrich, Lott share political war stories and laughs
While members of the U.S. Congress angrily debated bogged-down efforts at healthcare reform, three one-time adversaries shared old stories, pats on the back and laughs.
Former Democratic President Bill Clinton, ex-Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Senate Republican Leader Trent got together this week for the unveiling of Lott’s official Senate portrait.
“I’m still wondering why I’m here,” Clinton said, drawing chuckles and applause from a packed crowd on Capitol Hill of a few hundred people, including past and present congressional power brokers.
Clinton, Lott and Gingrich often engaged in front-page political battles during the former president’s eight years in the White House that ended in January 2001.
Most notably, Gingrich and Lott helped lead the failed bid in late 1998 and early 1999 to oust Clinton from office for lying about an affair with a White House intern.
None of them, in their remarks, made any mention of the scandal that rocked the nation and that tied up Congress for months.
Neither did they go near the flap that caused Lott to step down as Senate majority leader after making what was seen as a racially insensitive remark in 2002, ending more than five years a t the helm of the Senate.
Instead, they focused on the good times, kidded about some tough times and talked about productive times.
They noted that together they balanced the budget for the first time in 30 years and passed major legislation, including measures to overhaul welfare, dramatically boost education spending and create the federal health insurance program for children.
Lott revealed a key to their ability to find common ground.
“We never lost our ability to talk, even when I said something stupid — or vice versa,” Lott said.
Along the way, they developed a friendship.
“The world be amazed to know what good chemistry Trent and Newt and I had in private,” Clinton said.
Gingrich said the three were similar in their rise to power.
“We came out of nowhere, we had no plausible reason to get here, we got here and were slightly confused by the experience … and couldn’t believe the other two were here,” Gingrich said.
Lott acknowledged hanging on his office walls cartoons ridiculing Clinton. He said Clinton, after seeing them, laughed and gave him another cartoon — this one of Clinton skillfully fending off Republican opposition. Clinton framed and autographed it for the then Senate Republican leader.
Amid the laughter there was also some heartfelt talk.
Clinton told Lott, said: “When it is all said and done, all that matters is whether people are better off than when you started.”
“On that score, my friend, you did pretty well,” Clinton said.
Lott had a message for Congress, which has becoming increasingly partisan in recent years.
“If three good ole boys from the South, like the ones you heard today, can find a way to get it done …. I know that the outstanding leaders that we have in Congress … can get it done.”
Lott added, “I will be praying for you.”