Foursome on key House panel will set tone for hearings stemming from Starr report
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"Barney is relentlessly liberal and extraordinarily smart, and that will be good," says Bill Frenzel, a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution here and a former GOP congressman from Minnesota. "If the Republicans decide to take any action, they will have to do it carefully or people like Barney Frank will embarrass them."Skip to next paragraph
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In an interview, Frank said he'd combat any efforts by Mr. Gingrich to interfere in the Judiciary Committee's work, such as by setting deadlines or limits on witnesses. He agreed with House leaders that the Starr report should be made public.
Known for his razor-sharp wit and parliamentary acumen, the Harvard-educated Frank is famous for his mocking critiques of GOP proposals. During the heady first days of the Republicans' Contract With America, he stood like a sentry at the microphone ready to jump in with jibes.
Despite hitting a low point in his career six years ago with a congressional inquiry into charges stemming from his links to a male prostitute, Frank bounced back. Now serving his ninth term in the House, he is viewed by many as a respected leader of the Democratic opposition.
Clinton is clearly counting on support from Frank and other leading Democrats. Frank confirmed that he recently received a phone call from Clinton, who has spent much of this week trying to brighten his tarnished image and make amends with key party figures.
Frank dismissed as "immensely silly" the suggestion that rifts are forming within the Democratic Party between Clinton loyalists and others, such as House minority leader Richard Gephardt (D) of Missouri, who are distancing themselves from the embattled president.
John Conyers: Voice of experience
A third influential House player, ranking Judiciary Committee Democrat Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, brings valuable experience to the job as the only committee member who participated in the impeachment hearings that led to President Nixon's resignation in 1974.
"If you get some shrill voices on the Republican side, Conyers would be one of those who would bring it back to consideration of the law," says Ronald Walters, a University of Maryland political scientist.
Representative Conyers has been one of Congress's harshest critics of Starr, calling him one of the "enemies of the nation" and charging him with abuse of power for a "sinister" investigation.
A Detroit native and auto worker's son, Conyers has regularly voted with Clinton, but he has also been willing to break with him on high-profile measures such as welfare reform and the crime bill.
Still, Conyers, who is black, is under pressure to reflect the support that Clinton enjoys among African-Americans, Mr. Walters says. Blacks continue to give the president a favorability rating greater than 90 percent, despite his admission of an improper relationship with Ms. Lewinsky.
Another important leader on the GOP side is Rep. Bill McCollum (R) of Florida, the third-ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. A lawyer by training, Representative McCollum has a reputation for being articulate, attentive to detail, and - like Hyde - patiently committed to the legislative process. He has regularly parted ways with the most conservative GOP members, including committee colleague Rep. Bob Barr (R) of Georgia.
Yet unlike Hyde, McCollum has not shied from publicly speaking about his willingness to vote for impeachment proceedings if he believes Clinton committed perjury. "If we don't do that, he will have ... undermined the law and we would be setting a terrible precedent," he said recently.