Accountability: The Fall of Bill Clinton

Ch. 1: White House, January 25, 1998
  • Accountability: The Fall of Bill Clinton

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    January 25, 1998

    It was going to be a relatively nice day, the high near 45. Sunday traffic was lighter in D.C., not that it mattered for the President’s motorcade. But despite having the ultimate right of way, it was still a few minutes behind schedule. Erskine Bowles was puttering in the lobby, honestly enjoying the brief respite. To say the previous few days were crazy was an understatement. Being White House Chief of Staff, arguably the second most powerful position in the country, Bowles had different tolerance levels than most people for stress, but this was of a different caliber.

    The break was over when the black limousine rolled to a stop out front. Salutes from the Marine Guard signaled the President’s arrival as the doors opened. It almost smelled like spring. With him was Ron Klain, not unexpected but still a wrinkle. “Good morning, Mr. President. They’re waiting for you in the Oval Office.” Bowles strode along the President, who was giving his coat to his bagman.

    “So, what do we expect to hear from them?” he said in his accent, different from Bowles’s own slight twang.

    Bowles flipped open his notebook. “Well, we floated several names. If I had to short list it, I’d go with Pryor, Chiles, or Nunn. DeConcini, Wofford, and Schaefer seem less likely. Senators like other Senators. I’d say we’re good with all of them.”

    The President stopped walking, “Chiles? Didn’t he heart surgery over a decade ago?”

    “He's doing a good job as Governor now, and he was a Senator. The entire point of this list, sir, is to appoint somebody who can do the job but doesn’t want it. The list skews… greyer for that reason. You told me the goal was not to rock the boat. To be frank, unless we want to make it a fight, Republicans are holding all the cards on this.” Bowles had learned the blunt truth was best.

    “Jesus,” the President sighed then kept walking, "We couldn't win a fight, not now." Klain was still following. They were almost to the Oval Office.

    “Sir, Ron,” Bowles had to be blunt again, “it would be best if, Ron, you waited outside. We want to go in there like it is business as usual in the Oval.” There was an awkward pause before they agreed. Ron split off towards the private office.

    The Oval Office was quiet, unusual for a room full of politicians. It had been a loud few weeks in Washington but enough had been said by then. Divided by party, Democrats and Republicans avoided making eye contact after the curt pleasantries. The room was a little cramp with the leadership of both houses of Congress stuffed on the furniture. Their staff had to wait in the Roosevelt Room.

    Tom Daschle stared holes into the side of the Speaker’s head as he was whispering something to Trent Lott. “Anything we need to know over here?” Daschle asked, a clenched jaw betraying his level tone.

    Speaker Gingrich turned and replied, “No… just chatting.” Gingrich looked like the cat who caught the canary. He then added, “Your guy is late” with a head gesture towards the empty Resolute Desk. Armey thought the symbolism was a good touch.

    “Our guy is the President,” Daschle retorted.

    Gingrich refrained from rolling his eyes at the Minority Leader’s emphasis. “Well… he’s still late.”

    As if summoned, the door opened and in walked the President, followed by Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles. The relatively youthful President looked drained and tired from recent events. “Please be seated,” he requested, even though the room had barely attempted to stand in his presence. “Sorry to keep you waiting, but I hope we can be quick.” He circled around to the Resolute Desk but didn’t sit.

    Nods of agreement were shared across the room. “I think we can be,” Daschle replied, “do our friends across the room agree?”

    Lott confirmed, “Yes, Mr. President,” making the honorific sound like an insult.

    President Al Gore had heard dozens of names suggested over the past few days. Even his predecessor had offered his opinion on the matter, unsolicited. Gore wondered if he had made a cursed wish, like on a monkey paw or something. He was President, but it had to be in the crudest way possible. “Thanks again Bill…" he thought while standing by the Resolute desk.

    “Well, alright, who’s going to be Vice President then?” he asked.
    Ch 2: Jan. 16 and After, POD
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    January 16, 1998

    One of the FBI agents paused before entering the room and turned to Linda Tripp, stopping her outside of the Ritz-Carlton hotel room. “Thank you, but we will take it from here.”

    She opened her mouth to object, wanting to be part of the conversation (interrogation?) that was about to happen, but no words came to mind. She had forgotten the agent’s name. “What should I do?”

    “Head home. If we need anything, we will be in touch,” he said with a close of the door. Through the closing gap, a burning stare was emanating from her former friend. She hovered outside the hotel room door for a moment. Then, with a sigh, Tripp did just that.


    When Michael Isikoff at Newsweek broke the news of the Special Counsel’s expanded scope of the President, and Monica Lewinsky’s cooperation in the matter, it arguably became the largest story ever first published on the Internet. First released overnight on Newsweek’s AOL hosted website, the site had previously only been used to publish articles in the week after the hard copy was distributed. The editors were worried nobody would read it online first, so they faxed it to other news organizations for visibility. It gained traction online and on television Sunday January 18th, and by the end of the day basically the entire country had learned about the incredible, new allegations against the President.

    President Clinton himself had just given a deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case the day before. Bowles recalled him returning to the White House seemingly focused and unfazed. But in that deposition, he denied having a sexual relation with Lewinsky. The Newsweek article detailing the new scope of Ken Starr’s investigation included the detail Lewinsky apparently lied herself in the Jones case but was given immunity for cooperation with Starr. Isikoff's story was seconded by the less reputable Drudge Report online, then The Washington Post on Monday, January 19th. While given just a small line of the overall article, the public immediately latched on to the reporting that Lewinsky was in possession of DNA evidence of the President, a stained dress from one of their encounters.

    The White House was spinning after the bombshell, but head speechwriter Michael Waldman and most of the policy staff aimed to lock themselves away from the chaos. The State of the Union was next week, and the actual work of the Clinton Administration still needed to move forward. While John Podesta had cloistered a team to focus on the emergency news at hand, Waldman and others outside of the inner circle followed the lead of Bowles and Sylvia Mathews, trying to focus on the day-to-day work.

    Podesta immediately kicked into gear. Sleazy rumors around Clinton were not new, and the “secretary of shit” handled what he could. But Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles was visibly upset and sapped of energy after the recent news, as were many other of the more idealistic or squeamish staffers. The President denied everything to all peoples, but there was more to the scandal than just the affair. Clinton allegedly had tried to use his office to get Monica Lewinsky a job elsewhere in the government, potentially as part of a coverup. The first open break in the Administration was from Ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson. Richardson, on a call with the White House Monday the 19th, said he was going to publicly admit that Clinton indirectly tried to get Lewinsky a job in his office. Richardson was beginning to explain in fuller detail when Bowles broke out saying “I don’t want to know a fucking thing about it! Don’t tell me about it!”

    Vice President Al Gore felt the same way. The friendship between Clinton and Gore was genuine. Gore was visibly disgusted but said he believed Clinton when he said he denied the rumors. From Monday to Wednesday, the White House and Eisenhower Executive Office were full of people having hushed conversations that were punctured by shouting matches. Democratic leaders from the Hill tried to get in and figure out what was happening. Clinton was denying the reports. Close observers saw some slick language in his public comments though. In an interview with NPR, for example, he denied any affair or relationship in the present tense, not past tense.

    Inside the White House though, The President’s famous ability to compartmentalize had broken. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit was terribly timed. Clinton turned to his closer informal advisors, shutting out most policy. Unknown to many, Mark Penn had a direct line to the President and trying to feed him his own personal polling and spin on the matters. But the closet advisor to the President, as always, was the First Lady. Details of what exactly happened are fuzzy, but late Wednesday night the 21st, deep in the middle of another crisis meeting, Bill and Hillary went up to the residence together and came back down with their decision. Vice President Gore came over after despite the late hour, and the two men talked alone in the Oval Office.

    Waldman found out about Clinton’s resignation like most of the country did in the morning news on Thursday the 22nd. He rushed to the office. Once there he wasn’t sure what to do, most of the staff seemed to be acting the same way. He had devoted basically every waking hour of recent memory to the State of the Union. His offer to help on Clinton’s resignation speech was declined; the President wanted to do it himself. Eventually he got a call from Eli Atte, Gore’s speechwriter. The Vice President still planned on keeping the Address next week, for the sake of normalcy. Atte said was coming over to help retrofit the speech to Gore.

    Clinton addressed the country Thursday night from the East Hall. He wore the suit from his 1992 inauguration. Paul Begala nixed the idea of having it from the Oval Office. They wanted to make sure to avoid any Nixon imagery. It was a good call. Waldman watched from around a corner. President Clinton’s final address to the nation was well received publicly and by the West Wing staff. While admitting personal failures, ‘Slick Willy’ skirted any responsibility with regards to how he may have abused the powers of his office. He focused on his achievements - the economy, budget, America’s position as the sole superpower, and implored the country to unify behind Gore as President. He apologized for personal failures, implying more than one, and those he may have hurt, but the speech also cast Clinton as a victim, targeted by his political enemies. The Starr investigation was still ongoing, after all. The initial reaction by the Republican Party was sheer glee. They had taken down the President, one they saw as immoral and unfit for the role.

    The next day, Friday, there were a lot of hangovers in the building. President Clinton gave one last address to the staff in the morning. He almost lost his composure. After recovering, he tendered his official resignation letter to Attorney General Reno. At 12:01pm, in the Map Room, Gore took the Oath of Office, administered by Chief Justice Rehnquist. Gore walked his friend to the door but not outside to Marine One. Clinton walked into the helicopter with his wife and daughter, and they left. He didn’t wave goodbye, only turning around to take one last look. Gore gave a short speech afterwards that was carried live on television. Atte was already scratching a draft for it after he got over the shock of Clinton’s resignation. Like Ford before him, Gore stressed that this was the constitutional order as expected. The President was calm and steady, his persona being an advantage in this turbulent moment. He said he share more about his vision at next week’s State of the Union.

    An all Cabinet meeting had been scheduled for the 23rd before the resignation, Gore kept it on the books. Business as usual would continue. Gore had been the most involved Vice President ever, and he would demonstrate he could do the job even on literal day one.

    Atte and Waldman spent most of this time locked away with other communication staff to rework the State of the Union. President Gore would ask for status updates and review the speech, but most of his time was coordinating with Congress and Governors, calming nerves, and trying to figure out who would be his Vice President. At some point, Atte realized he technically still worked for the office of the Vice President, which was vacant. It was midday Sunday the 25th when Gore told them he wanted to announce his choice for Vice President at the State of the Union.

    Come Tuesday evening, President Gore was pacing small circles in a Senate side room, waiting for his debut. Tipper gave him a kiss and left for her seat with the guest of honor. The speech’s meat and potatoes were essentially what Clinton had planned, with the length cut down - billions in social programs to be paid for by closing loopholes and new tobacco taxes, reinvesting in Social Security, etc. A lot of work had gone into balancing the budget, and now maybe they could do something with it. More important to the moment, though, was the pomp and circumstance. Unelected, the President’s reception by Congress was critical for his legitimacy. Later Gore would admit that he didn’t feel like President until he was announced through those doors to applause.

    Behind Gore sat Senator Strom Thurmond and Speaker Gingrich, highlighting the divided government and that the Vice Presidency vacant. With the viewing audience surpassing Clinton’s 1993 number, the speech was reviewed as calming for the country. Some commentators said that ‘boredom’ might just be what D.C. and country needed. Gore’s aim was to keep the ship steady on the popular policies of Clinton without the personal drama. The scene of Senator Thurmond, 95 years old, almost nodding off to sleep several times during the speech added a helpful distraction and fodder for late night hosts. The news had leaked before the address, but the nominee for Vice President was made apparent as he sat next newly minted First Lady in the balcony. It was given a cursory comment at the beginning, but the penultimate paragraph of Gore’s speech was directed at the elephant in the room:

    “I know that I have assumed this office not through popular mandate, but by constitutional process. In this moment, I recall the words of President Ford, in that I took ‘the same oath that was taken by George Washington and by every President under the Constitution’ as well. The smooth and peaceful transition of power, especially in unusual circumstances, is a tribute to our laws and traditions. The strength of American democracy is shown most clearly through the difficulties it can overcome. The office of the President shall always be larger and more important than just one man. As we move forward together in these next few days and months, and as we as a nation move forward into the next millennium, I promise directly to you, my fellow Americans, to faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States and uphold the Constitution which makes such peaceful transitions possible.” Applause.

    It was a subtle rebuke to his predecessor and the never-ending scandal that had followed him. With an election in November, Gore would have to walk a tightrope between keeping those who had elected a different man happy, avoiding the same fate of constant scrutiny, and setting his own agenda. Gore had all of that in mind when he said, “It is in the name of unity that I will be nominating Secretary William Cohen to be the next Vice President of the United States.”


    January 25, 1998

    Lott replied, “From my caucus’s position, and I think Newt would agree with me here, we believe Secretary Cohen is best positioned to heal the nation.” Speaker Newt Gingrich nodded, “Yes.”

    President Gore kept his poker face. “Where’d that come from? He wasn’t on our, I mean, my, list.” It was true. Bill Cohen was not on the short list the White House had circled on Capitol Hill.

    “Now wait a minute,” Daschle interjected, caught off guard as well, “what the hell are you two trying to pull? Now you want to put a Republican next in line to be President?”

    “Come the State of the Union, you’ll see two men sitting behind the President,” Gingrich argued, “Thurmond and myself. There’s two Republicans right now in line for President, and the first is 95 years old. We need somebody who can move through the process fast, in both Houses, Houses controlled by Republicans. Cohen was confirmed unanimously for Defense Secretary last year. If he was good enough to run the Pentagon for Democrats, I don’t see why he can’t take a do-nothing job like Vice President… no offense.”

    “There’s no way the President will accept this,” Gephardt claimed.

    “I can speak for myself, thank you,” rebutted Gore. He let a pause silence the room. The chaos of the past few news cycles needed to die down, quick. Gore knew Cohen well; he was levelheaded in the Senate and his year at the Pentagon had gone well. He glanced to Bowles who was leaning on the curved wall behind the seated leadership, visibly weary, who gave subtle nod of approval. Cohen it would be.

    “Well… alright. We’ll give Bill a call and ask him if he wants to be Vice President. He may turn me down. For the sake of the country, let’s make this quick and easy, yes? Apparently, Ford took eleven days to appoint Rockefeller, but stuff moves a lot faster these days, as we’ve all seen in the past week.” He again got nods from the room, if that was at all reassuring. “Good. Thank you all.”

    Al Gore exited to a half-hearted chorus of “Thank you, Mr. President.”

    Having been President less than 72 hours, Gore left the Oval to go back to the Vice President’s office to make to confer with Ron and Eskine, then make the calls. Most of his stuff was still there.
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    Ch. 3: Settling In
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    After five years as Vice President, there was no doubt that Al Gore was as prepared as possible to fulfill the Presidency on ‘day one’. That being said, no one is really prepared. The office does not work like history’s recollection of it, with timelines of events laid out in clear succession, issues divided into ‘foreign’ and ‘domestic’. It all happens all at once. Immediately, Gore had to grapple with Iraq, Russia, Social Security, tax reform, the looming midterms, and the most salacious political scandal since Alexander Hamilton.

    The first major pushback Gore faced was over his selection of Vice President, William Cohen. Gephardt’s comment in the Oval Office betrayed what became a bigger concern – a backlash from the Democratic base. The first major action Gore was trying to take in office was a sell-out of the party. The fact that it was unexpected or unconsidered by Gore spoke to mindset of the moment. While Cohen was a Republican moderate, for example being relatively pro-choice, he was still to the right of the Democratic caucus on most issues. President Gore and Cohen came to the agreement that Cohen would not publicly defend administration policies he did not genuinely support. While Clinton-Gore had been an effective tag-team for 7 years, Gore would not have the assumed backing of his Vice President on political matters.

    The Cohen Senate hearings began in the in February and would be brief, but there was a larger revolt was in the House. Minority Leader Gephardt publicly supported the President, there was little effort to convince those skeptical in the caucus by House leadership. The White House went into overtime to back the President’s choice. Even Gore was frustrated by the issue, having his choice forced by the Republican majorities. After his Senate hearings, Cohen’s appointment was buoyed by an unexpected group – the Congressional Black Caucus. William Cohen’s wife, Janet Langhart, was a black woman. Langhart, a journalist, was known in DC circles and had a visible role, being dubbed the “First Lady of the Pentagon”. Langhart had sat behind her husband during the long sessions and an image of them embracing in the hearing room was seen across the country. The CBC decided that having Langhart as Second Lady would be a powerful symbol of racial change in the country.

    While the Cohen hearings were happening, Republicans on the Hill and in the media were having a bit of a victory lap. But almost immediately they started asking “What did Gore know and when did he know it?” The Independent Counsel Ken Starr’s investigation was on-going, as was the Jones harassment suit. Gore had to immediately separate himself from any supposed wrongdoing that may have been happened. Through February, polling seemed favorable and the public of the opinion that Gore was not involved in Clinton’s shenanigans. The public persona of Gore, strait-laced and stiff, likely helped him dramatically in those early weeks. The National Prayer Breakfast on February 5th served as an excellent forum for Gore to praise family values and express his faith.

    That same day, Ken Starr held a press conference, saying that the investigation was “moving very quickly” and that he expected a swift conclusion. Public polling showed a swift swing against his investigation. No decisions on prosecution against the now ex-President had been made, though. In the public relation wars, Clinton saw a sympathetic surge of approval out of office, and by 2 to 1 margin Americans said the Starr investigation should end now that Clinton resigned.

    Without the cover of executive privilege, Clinton staffers like Sidney Blumenthal rapidly gave close door testimonies to the grand jury. By April, Starr submitted his report to House Judiciary Committee. While Clinton had committed actions that abused his office and were potential federal crimes, he decided to refrain from prosecution given his resignation. Ken Starr had motivated reasoning – he was eager to leave the important, but frankly grimy, work behind him and was in line to be the next dean at Pepperdine University Law School, and perhaps had one foot out the door. The House soon released the full report to the public on the internet by the end of April. While juicy and sensational, with Clinton already out of office, the Gore Administration looked to move past it quickly. The legal trouble was not over for Clinton, however, as the Jones harassment case was still an open and serious matter.

    Meanwhile, the rest of the world kept spinning. Gore’s first days in office were met with a noticeable drop in the S&P 500 and NASDAQ Composite. This mimicked the October 27, 1997 mini-crash and they returned to positive territory by the State of the Union. The economy was strong but there was always room for improvement. Al Gore had arguably been the most influential modern Vice President, with strong influence and domestic and foreign policy. But now he was the Commander-in-Chief, with all the added pressures.

    British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s visit was Gore’s first high profile opportunity for statecraft. The Good Friday Agreement, which Clinton championed, would demonstrate America’s continued soft power abroad. Gore’s strong ties with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin gave him a springboard towards strengthening ties with the former chief geopolitical rival, although the Ruble crisis brought uncertainties. The situation in the Balkans was still heated as Yugoslavia and its region Kosovo continued to clash, requiring active management with Europe and the Russians. Above all, the containment of Iraq would require close management. In the State of the Union, Gore had outlined Saddam Hussein’s continued efforts to obtain nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. But Hussein’s ambitions were controlled. Gore praised the United Nation’s efforts in containing those efforts and pledged continued US support. Despite the drama at home, the United States’ standing in the world remained strong and the federal budget was on target to run a surplus for the first time since the 1960s.

    With the Starr investigation winding down, there was now enough air to stoke the flames of another. Since the 1996 election, a controversy had been nipping at the Democratic party, especially Gore. First prominently raised by a Los Angeles Times article, the possible effort of the Chinese to influence the Democratic Party gained new attention. In particular, fundraisers and donations were supposedly being funded from the People’s Republic of China directly to the Democrats in exchange for political favoritism.

    It had been a sideshow of the continual “Clinton Wars” that had plagued the administration since inauguration. Being convoluted and boring compared to Clinton’s misdeeds, the scandal had not really garnered the same headlines. It was also a more complicated story, and some of the actors were associated with both Democratic and Republican officials like former Speaker Gingrich. The Republican House and Senate both had open investigations, as did the Justice Department. The House effort, led by Rep. Dan Burton, was largely seen as a farce, costing more than the Watergate investigation and producing few results. Burton would be further discredited after his own affair (resulting in a child out of wedlock) was made public.


    The Senate investigation by the Committee on Governmental Affairs, on the other hand, made a bigger splash. Led by Senator Fred Thompson, former actor and from Gore’s home state of Tennessee, the Senate had maintained some more gravitas and sincerity in its efforts. Thompson immediately seized on the opportunity of additional media coverage when publishing the committee report in March. It was split down party lines, 8 to 7, with Senator John Glenn submitting a minority report for the Democrats. While, the report seemed to exonerate Gore of any explicit wrongdoing, Thompson used his new platform to lecture the country about the ‘unsavory character’ of the Democratic Party. While Clinton was gone, the rot was still there, seemed to be the message, with all eyes on the November midterm elections. Gore cancelled a trip to China that Clinton had been planning due to mounting political pressure. In June, the Justice Department would internally recommend an independent counsel to further investigate any alleged fund-raising abuses. This was refused by Attorney General Janet Reno.

    William Cohen was eventually sworn-in as Vice President of the United States in early April. Only the crankiest voices on the left were still complaining about it. With Cohen in place and the Starr investigation winding down, Gore finally felt like he had some breathing room.

    When it became the “Gore White House,” the entire staff had been picked by Clinton, albeit often with Gore’s input. Gore knew that he had to simultaneously maintain the status quo of an effective Executive Office and change enough to make it is his own. Messaging these changes would be just as important as the changes themselves. He had to clean house without looking like he was kicking anybody out, even if they were doing just that. Clinton’s Executive Office had been operating with two effective divisions – those managing scandal and those actually managing governance. Gore wanted to end that.

    The first change was immediate as he brought on his Chief of Staff Ron Klain as a Special Advisor, with the obvious intent to move him to White House Chief of Staff when there was an opening. Franklin Raines’ resignation as Director of the Office of Management and Budget gave that opportunity. Erskine Bowles, who had proved effective at budget negotiations, slid over to OMB and Klain became Chief of Staff. Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations John Podesta, to not be sidelined, moved to White House Counsel after Charles Ruff resigned to private practice and provide legal services to private citizen Bill Clinton.

    Two moves were also soon possible for his Cabinet. Secretary of Energy Federico Peña resigned in early June. Gore tapped the Deputy Elizabeth Moler to lead the department, which was welcomed internally as Peña was seen as an outsider and not fit for the role. The bigger break would come when Attorney General Janet Reno would resign in a few weeks later, supposedly on request from the President. Gore expected the move would make his administration appear more open and transparent. Reno had been a target of repeated attacks by Republicans. As a symbol of Clinton stonewalling, rightly or wrongly, her departure was supposed to be seen as a fresh start. In addition, it would give Gore the opportunity to highlight his own personal agenda by nominating Deputy AG Eric Holder as her replacement.


    It was not an uncontroversial move. Democrats like James Carville said he was being a pushover. Republicans, although happy to see Reno gone, still publicly chastised the President for playing politics with the Justice Department. The Republican Senate seemed unwilling to even vote on the matter until July 24, when a gunman opened fire in the Capitol building, killing two United States Capitol Police officers. In a move of perhaps crass politicization, some Republicans realized that hamstringing the Justice Department after such a high-profile incident was not a good look and acquiesced. Holder was hammered in his hearings over his stands on affirmative action and other ‘special interest’ liberal positions but was undeniably qualified for the role and eventually was confirmed.

    While the machinations of domestic life continued, America’s apparent invulnerability after the Cold War on the world stage would be challenged.
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    Ch. 4: Embassies
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    On August 7th at 5:35 AM, National Security Advisor Sandy Berger awoke President Al Gore with news every President dreads. The United States had been attacked. Two truck bombs detonated at embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The final toll would come to 224 lost and thousands injured, with most of the causalities being locals. While there was some uncertainty in the early days, the coordinated operation immediately pointed towards an established and sophisticated network.

    That day Gore met with his ‘Small Group’ of national security advisors to formulate a response. As briefed by CIA Director George Tenet, the perpetrators were soon identified as the international jihadist group al-Qaeda, led by the Saudi multimillionaire Osama bin Laden. Gore was familiar with al-Qaeda and their operations, having been featured regularly in security briefings. Bin Laden and the leadership of al-Qaeda were based out of Afghanistan, a remote and mountainous country. Extraction or direct bombing campaigns would prove difficult due to logistics and politics. Uzbekistan and Pakistan were likely to not give permission. Additionally, the secrecy of any response was paramount and involving either neighboring country increased the likelihood of leaks and failure.

    Gore’s advisors came to suggest targeted cruise missile strikes against known terrorist camps, supporting not only al-Qaeda but other terrorist organizations. Additional targets in Sudan and other countries were removed. President Gore was feeling cautious his first time using American firepower. On August 20th, the strike was launched. US officials only provided 10 minutes of advanced warning to Pakistan that the Tomahawks would be passing through their air space.

    The intent of the strike was to specifically target bin Laden. The legal justification of this targeted strike against an individual was perhaps unusual – the President had been given power to target international terrorist infrastructure by Title 22, Section 2377 of the U.S. code and al-Qaeda’s leadership was deemed as “infrastructure”. After notifying legislators and speaking with several foreign leaders, President Gore addressed the nation that night to announce the strike. Some suggestions from right wing sources that the attacks were to distract the nation ahead of the midterm elections never gained much traction. Within a few days, it was apparent that the strikes achieved few of the intended goals.

    While well-received at home, the international reaction was decidedly mixed, divided down expected lines. Public protests and demonstrations flared up across the Middle East, south Asia and north Africa. Amongst the causalities were Pakistani security agents. Bin Laden survived and became a folk hero to many. Al-Qaeda was largely not impacted, and the assault strengthened their ties with the Taliban government and Pakistani agents. Saudi Arabia broke off relations with the Taliban, feeling betrayed as the Taliban reneged on a deal to extradite bin Laden. The American intelligence community, which had a dedicated Bin Laden Issue Station since 1996, would revamp and redouble its efforts. Little of this was visible to the American public and the strike was largely soon forgotten.
    Ch. 5: The 1998 Elections
  • Looming over the rest of 1998 was November 3rd – Election Day. Legislatively speaking, very little had been accomplished in Clinton’s short second term. The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 and Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 were the noticeable achievements. With divided government and compared to previous Republican intransigence, just keeping the government open was considered an improvement. Now with President Gore, there was some hope of change by the country. But in the lead-up to the election, there was more to be lost than gained with political efforts being saved for the campaign trail. Relatively minor reforms of the IRS, transportation spending, online privacy, and copyright bills passed. Gore vetoed the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act but signed the Iraq Liberation Act, making the removal of Saddam Hussein official United States policy.

    As President, Gore had looked for immediate wins. With bipartisan support from Senator John McCain of Arizona, his White House made significant push on tobacco regulation and tax legislation. The effort aligned with the key focuses of improving American health and fiscal responsibility. The bill would target teen smoking and bring in a potential revenue of $516 billion over 25 years. That money would go directly to more healthcare spending such as childcare and research, and also school construction and teacher hiring. Senate Republicans killed the bill in June, and Gore used it as a campaign touchstone, saying Republicans would rather score political points than help kids.

    With the shake-up at the White House, and without Clinton as a punching bag, Republicans on the hill scrambled for a unifying midterm theme. The Supreme Court was surprisingly out of the news save for Gore v. City of New York, which ruled the line-item veto unconstitutional. The political donations scandal was not resonating with voters like the Starr investigation, in part because of the moves Gore had made to show political distance. Steady, moderate Gore did not make a good target for the Republican message of making a check on ‘out of touch, ultraliberal Democrats’. The 1998 midterms failed to have a unifying message like 1994’s Contract with America.

    This was made apparent when Newt Gingrich announced he would not run for reelection in November. Gingrich remained a very public House member even out of leadership, and while wounded by his ouster the year before, nobody expected Gingrich to just slink away. The move started a frenzy inside the beltway of political machination and whispers. With Clinton’s resignation, Washington’s chattering class had begun to wonder what other torrid affairs were happening in the back closets of America’s halls of power. The open secret of Newt Gingrich’s own affair was perhaps starting to get too open. He would file for divorce by the end of the year and marry his staffer Callista Bisek shortly after.

    This proactive move proved shrewd when, only days later, Bob Livingston, Chair of the House Appropriation Committee, would have his own extramarital affair exposed in scandal. He had been seen as a potential successor to Gingrich as Speaker. Instead, Livingston announced he would not be seeking reelection in the fall. Before the election, several other affairs had by several other Republican House members would be exposed. Historically midterms benefited the party out of the White House, and Republicans hoped to solidify their majorities. But with Clinton’s resignation and Gore’s fresh incumbency, this was uncharted waters for the nation. Election night’s mixed results showed that.

    If the 1998 midterms results had a unifying message, it was that Republicans stayed home. With the boogeyman of Clinton removed, it seemed some “values voters” had been satisfied and then concerned with Republican hypocrisy. Congressional Republicans were the dog that caught the car. Polling up to the election showed that even in resignation Clinton maintained steady approval numbers. President Gore and Congressional Democrats mocked Republican efforts to continue the Starr scandals beyond the report’s findings. ‘Beating a dead horse’ was a term that came to mind. President Gore’s publicly strong union with his wife Tipper played well against the slow rolling revelations of Congressional Republican indiscretions – the most visible being Barr, Livingston, Gingrich, Burton, Hyde, and Chenoweth. With Gingrich already stepping aside, Majority Leader Armey became a sacrificial lamb in the middle of the Republican circular firing squad.

    34 Senate seats were up, although those contests were largely overshadowed by the drama in the House. Democrats had to defend more Senate seats, and early in the contests there were musings that Republicans could reach a supermajority of 60 if things went well. Those hopes were dashed on election night as 5 seats did switched seats but without a major swing to Republicans - Democrats picked up Indiana, New York, and North Carolina; Republicans won in Illinois and Ohio. The balance of the Senate sat at 54 to 45, favoring Republicans as a lengthy battle brewed in Kentucky, where the vote difference was incredibly close. After three weeks of positioning, Democrat Scotty Baesler was declared the winner, bringing Democrats up to 46 seats.

    In the 36 races for state governorships, some changed hands, but again the overall control remained stable as well. Democrats were victors in Alabama, California, Iowa, and South Carolina; Republicans would see wins in Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, and Nevada. A unique race unfolded in Minnesota, which saw a shake-up of the usual two-party system by Reform Party candidate Jesse Ventura forcing the election into a recount. The former wrestler ran a grassroots campaign that pioneered internet organization, with fewer funds and television ads. Post-race analysis showed Ventura’s voters mostly came from DFL candidate Skip Humphrey’s potential base. Humphrey, who was leading Republican Norm Coleman in early polling, would end up in third in the end. Coleman won by less than 500 votes over the outsider Ventura.

    The biggest change came in the House of Representatives, where Democrats won back the majority of seats, albeit a small one. Buoyed by the churn in leadership and scandal on the other side, Democrats flipped 15 seats, giving them a majority of 10, including independent Bernie Sanders. With their Congressional mandate rebuked, the GOP needed to adapt their focus to national campaign to reclaim both the House and White House in 2000. Bill Paxon, sidelined in the ‘coup’ against Gingrich the previous year, mobilized quickly in a leadership fight against Dick Armey who was wounded. Paxon’s attempt to force a leadership change the previous year seemed prescient now after Republican defeats, and he was selected as the new Minority Leader with relative ease.
    Ch. 6: Iraq and Balkans; Lewinsky and Broaddrick

  • After the election, President Al Gore was enjoying a brief respite, escaping D.C. for a vacation to North Carolina’s coast. But the President is never really off the clock.

    Since the Gulf War, Iraq had continued to be a critical foreign policy concern. The United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) had been systematically discovering and destroying equipment that could have supported various weapons programs – biological, chemical and even nuclear. It had not been an easy effort but had real successes to show for it. Despite the progress, Gore continued to face pressure at home for a more aggressive stance. Gore honestly agreed with them that the United States’ long-term goal should be regime change in Iraq, but also knew he needed to balance that goal with the international community.

    The same day President Gore signed the Iraq Liberation Act, Saddam Hussein expelled the UNSCOM weapon inspectors. Gore ordered Operation Desert Thunder to build-up the retaliatory response, enforce United Nations Security Council Resolution 1205. Then on November 15th, just as the President was getting back to D.C., Operation Desert Viper was a go.

    The original battle plan called for multiple days of cruise missile and air strikes, but Iraq quickly capitulated. Only 17 Tomahawks had been launched before Iraq requested new negotiations. President Gore addressed the nation that night, justifying the attack under the Iraq Liberation Act and as enforcement of the UN’s resolutions. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1210 passed on November 25th, laying out a new framework for inspections. UNSCOM would be replaced with a new mission, whose staff was comprised of UN employees. Iraq had reported complaints that the CIA had infiltrated UNSCOM and was using it is a backdoor to gather intelligence, and possibly arrange an assassination of Saddam Hussein. These complaints were not without merit. UN inspectors would return to Iraq in December as the United Nations Monitoring and Inspection Commission (UNMIC).

    Meanwhile, conflict continued to simmer in the Balkans. NATO, the UN, and Russia had all been involved in trying to at least contain the most apparent violence. In September, the UN Security Council had demanded a ceasefire and North Atlantic Council issued an activation warning, bringing NATO forces to a state of readiness for an intervention. While missiles were flying in the Gulf, it seemed likely that same would soon be happening in the Adriatic.

    All out conflict was avoided, at least temporarily, on October 15th. The Kosovo Verification Mission was agreed to by Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe as an unarmed monitoring team. It proved inadequate. Fighting began again by December and the violence only escalated. The tipping point came with the Račak massacre on January 15th, 1999. NATO issued a denouncement, with American backing, which came with the threat of a force towards both sides. By the end of January, all parties agreed to a NATO-mediated conference, held in France at Château de Rambouillet. The goals were clear from the start – the restoration of democratic process with international observation and Kosovo was to be permitted its previous autonomy within Serbia. Expected to only last a few weeks, they dragged on until March. But eventually there was a breakthrough. The Russian delegation was headed by former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. While President Gore had originally attempted to manage through intermediaries like special Balkan envoy Richard Holbrooke, after weeks of delays, Gore made a personal intervention. Having had a strong personal relationship for years with Chernomyrdin, they exchanged direct calls to figure a way out. The Rambouillet Accords were signed on March 18th after Russia stopped backing Serbian rejections. It was effectively a reenactment of the Dayton Agreement signed a few years earlier. NATO-led force would enforce the peace in Kosovo but would not have access to Serbia’s core territory. Russia would lead the multi-national northeast division, the border territory including Pristina. Unarmed UN staff would have monitor access within Serbia. Finally, the OSCE was charged with monitoring free and fair elections.


    With Congress in a lame duck through January and scandal finally receding after years of swirling, domestic politics settled down through the winter. Independent Counsel Rod Rosenstein, who took over the investigation after Ken Starr’s departure, finally concluded to not bring any charges against the former President or any other persons for obstruction of justice. Regular issues of governance, like a major snowstorm hitting Milwaukee and Chicago, began to take priority again.

    Monica Lewinsky would appear back in the news in February, giving a televised interview on her side of the story. Although salacious, when asked, she admitted it was unlikely that President Gore knew anything of the affair. More shocking was the interview two weeks later by Juanita Broaddrick. In an interview on NBC, the most serious allegations of sexual misconduct were made public, this event dating back to 1978 in Arkansas. It was the first new incident made public since Clinton’s resignation, and since being out of office there was less immediate defense of the former President. Clinton had his defenders, but it did not include the White House, which refused to comment on a ‘private matter.’ The news cycle moved past quickly but nationally it sat heavy on Clinton’s legacy. Despite Broaddrick contradicting a former sworn statement, it seemed to fit a fact pattern that was now known. Legal proceedings around the Jones v. Clinton case still got some national attention but there was little reason to smear a former President for political reasons.

    The 106th Congress convened on January 3rd, 1999. As expected, Dick Gephardt was elected Speaker of the House, and the rest of Congressional leadership was settled after month of internal campaigning:

    President: William Cohen (R*)
    President pro tempore: Strom Thurmond (R)

    Majority (Republican) leadership
    Majority Leader: Trent Lott
    Majority Whip: Don Nickles

    Minority (Democratic) leadership
    Minority Leader: Tom Daschle
    Minority Whip: Harry Reid

    House of Representatives
    Speaker: Dick Gephardt (D)

    Majority (Democratic) leadership
    Majority Leader: Nita Lowey
    Majority Whip: David E. Bonior

    Minority (Republican) leadership
    Minority Leader: Bill Paxon
    Minority Whip: Tom DeLay

    *nominally Republican, Vice President Cohen has publicly stated that he would break a tie according to the President's requested direction if needed
    Ch. 7: 1999 Begins
  • candidate2000.jpg

    President Al Gore and his staff were preparing for his second State of the Union. Given how rushed his first address was, this would be the first address that would be entirely his. He was proud that he just survived the previous year and wanted to actually get stuff done before the election. But with the 1998 midterms done, the media speculation had already begun about the 2000 Presidential election. Now as the incumbent, Gore seemed secure from a serious contest from within. Possible challengers like Bill Bradley and Paul Wellstone, who had been making noise prior to Clinton’s resignation, stepped back from challenging the sitting President. Gore’s incumbency also changed some of the calculus by his Republican challengers as well. The strong economy and incumbency made Gore a formidable opponent. Potential candidates like Sen. John Ashcroft, Governor Christine Todd Whitman, and Sen. Fred Thompson had all declined running. But the Republican field remained an intimidatingly large one.

    While Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire was the only candidate to formally announce his candidacy before March of 1999, many others were openly exploring a candidacy or making blatant moves to do so. Elizabeth Dole had stepped down from the Red Cross and was seen as a leading candidate along with Texas Governor George Bush. Dole and Bush sat comfortably ahead of early polling, but that did not stop others from testing the waters. Former Vice-Presidential candidate Jack Kemp and former Vice President Dan Quayle had both created exploratory committees. Previous candidates like former Gov. Lamar Alexander, Pat Buchanan, Alan Keyes, and Steve Forbes were visibly preparing early campaigns. Arizona Sen. John McCain would see his name recognition rise with the tobacco bill’s passage, after failing in the previous year, and with a bipartisan push for campaign finance reform. As the winter thawed, Newt Gingrich, reengaged and rebranded, began traveling the country on a ‘listening tour’, and once again became a frequent guest on cable news. Other first-time Presidential candidates included seasoned veteran Sen. Orrin Hatch, fresh-face Representative John Kasich, business mogul Donald Trump, and conservative firebrand Gary Bauer.

    Most of their 2000 Presidential campaigns would not actually last to see 2000.

    While the horse race ran its course, President Gore, Speaker Gephardt, and Majority Leader Lott all tried to craft their preferred policy and keep the government running. With Democrats in control of the House, there was significantly less pressure to acquiesce to the more extreme Republican demands just to keep the Government open. Items like the elimination of the estate tax, a flag burning amendment, and austere spending cuts were off the table, but were still pushed for on television. That did not mean everything was copacetic between the and President, who had genuine policy differences. The most notable difference was that Gore, in alignment with Republicans, was in favor of extending normal trade relations to China, but Gephardt did not support such a move, citing labor and manufacturing concerns. And given the slim Democratic majority, even minor cracks in the party could lead to a bill’s failure and the move stalled.

    The spring saw items like education reform, social security reform, and the expansion of the federal hate crime bill to include sexual orientation being discussed in Washington but little was happening beyond discussions. Despite that, the Dow Jones Industrial Average surpassed 10,000 for the first time ever in early April. Overall, things were looking good for America.

    The President was hosting Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov when tragedy would shake up the agenda. A deadly school shooting in Littleton, Colorado shooting stopped the nation in its tracks. While the nation mourned, President Gore, who previously had been seen as a moderate on gun control, pushed for immediate action. The usually reserved President was visible bereaved and angry. The Republican presidential candidates were pushed for responses as well with varying degrees of success. Texas Governor George Bush notably flubbed his response, pointing to his concealed carry expansion and implying that if other students were armed it would not have happened.


    Intense lobbying by the White House helped motivate the Senate to pass a joint juvenile crime and gun control bill over objections by the NRA. Vice President Cohen assuaged Democratic fears and fulfilled his promise to the President when he cast a tie-breaking vote to close of the “gun show loophole.” Another school shooting just that week in Georgia was noted by Senator Max Cleland as influencing his votes. But when Speaker Gephardt brought the same bill to the floor, it was easily defeated with a sizable number of Democrats from rural districts voting against the legislation. Minority Leader Paxon, speaking for sensibly conservative suburban Republicans, said he supported certain gun control measures but did not do anything behind closed doors to whip support for the bill. Gore would continue to push the issue through the term with little success.

    While there was no success in curbing arms at home, steady progress was being made overseas. The Clinton and Gore administrations had been engaging in diplomatic efforts with North Korea in an attempt to end their nuclear program, and recent North Korean missile technology advancement had pressed the issue. Multiple rounds of heavy sanctions had been levied against the hermit nation in attempt to bring them to the table, but with little movement under the Agreed Framework since 1994. New opportunities seemed possible with the election of South Korean President Kim Dae-jung in 1998, who in his inauguration speech announced a new policy of engagement and cooperation with their neighbor, called the “Sunshine Policy”. Gore appointed William Perry as North Korea policy coordinator the previous year to directly engage on the issue, in partnership with Japan and South Korea. In May, the former Defense Secretary lead a delegation to North Korea, bringing a secret letter directly from President Gore to be given to Supreme Leader Kim Jong Il. Steady progress and minor concessions on both sides would drag through 2000 and was one of the major policy initiatives that involved Vice President Cohen. With actors like Iraq and North Korea on the world stage, President Gore would make nuclear non-proliferation a key plank of his reelection campaign.
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    Ch. 7b: Gore and Gephardt
  • 1583875378098.png

    Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin publicly announced that he would resign on May 12, 1999. President Al Gore held a Rose Garden ceremony to laud his “steady hand” in helping guide the economy. Surprising none, Deputy Treasury Secretary Larry Summers was named as the choice to follow Rubin. Rubin had been actively grooming Summers as his replacement. It was well received across the spectrum of observers. Gore and all his potential rivals knew the strong economy would be his primary asset in reelection.

    With the House in Democratic hands, Speaker Dick Gephardt was in a strong position to prioritize his own agenda. Gephardt and Gore had a long history together. Both House Freshman in 1977, they were two determined men whose motivations had ran into each other before, but the public rift had started back in 1988, during a nasty debate while they were both running for President. In only a way that Presidential politics could cause, disputes over trade had turned personal. But now, 11 years later, they were the two most powerful men in Washington. Tempers had cooled with age but there were still disagreements.

    With Chinese trade relation status on the backburner, the next issue splitting the two Democrat leaders was banking reform. Citicorp and Travelers Group had merged the previous year. The Federal Reserve had granted a temporary waiver, as the merger of banking, securities, and insurance would be a violation of the Glass-Steagall Act. Although largely backed by Republicans, Gore had been amenable to what was being billed as ‘financial modernization’. The President said Depression-era constraints did not make sense in a modern, digital world. The liberal argument was that with expanded banking options, new opportunities could be made available to financially under-serviced communities. While Gephardt was on record in approval of a bill, the majority of House Democrats were not. A compromise was struck before the August recess. Gephardt would allow the amended Financial Services Modernization bill on the House floor, knowing it would pass with a Republican majority and a Democratic minority. As a compromise, it would include a modest minimum wage increase and inflation-pegged reform.
    Ch. 8: Republican Primary Beginnings

  • In June, Texas Governor George Bush had announced his decision. Since his easy reelection last fall, he had been in constant discussion with his closest advisors, family, and friends about whether or not to run for President in 2000. After much discussion, Bush would not be running for President. Karl Rove made the best points within his camp – Gore was likely to be reelected with the economy the way it was and Clinton’s baggage out of the picture. And Gore would be term limited, unable to run in 2004. Another term as Governor or would be no issue in Texas. Bush also said his twin daughters were going to graduate high school in 200 and he wanted to spend a bit more time with them. 2004 was the year for him. Early Bush backers like James Baker were disappointed. Donors and bundlers, mostly from Texas, began searching for other candidates. Elizabeth Dole was now the perceived front-runner in most opinion polls and media coverage, but the Iowa caucuses were still seven months away.

    The Republican field was still holding stable by the time President Al Gore officially announced he was running for reelection in September. Elizabeth Dole was still leading the Republican pack during this period. “Soccer moms”, an influential swing vote, had given Clinton the edge in 1996. Dole’s potential candidacy as a feasible female candidate brought extra attention and speculation to the contest. Could Gore keep women in the Democratic camp while running against a woman?


    As the economy continued its streak of good news in late 1999, polling showed a ‘mellowing’ of public opinion since the beginning of the decade. In November, Pew released a poll showing changes in public opinion. The amount of people saying they “have no say in government” and that “government is wasteful and inefficient” were both down since the early 90s. This was good news for the incumbent President, who continually led in one-on-one horserace polls against his potential Republican contenders.

    But it also contained some concerns for Gore, as the Republican front runner Elizabeth Dole showed more cross-over support than Gore himself. In a lesson that would be ignored time after time, voters expressed that candidate qualities like personality and perceived experience may trump the specific issues they openly supported. Again, this broke against Gore, where conservative leaners were issue-orientated and left-leaning independents or moderates were focused on candidate qualities, causing conservatives to oppose him on the issues but leaners to not be really interested in his public persona.

    By the fall of 1999 the Republican field had been whittled down further. Businessman Donald Trump and television personality Pat Buchanan had both dropped out of the Republican race to contest the Reform Party candidacy, which would come with $12.5 million in matching funds. In Trump’s statement, he denounced Republican extremist and called Buchanan a “bigot” and “Hitler lover.” Most serious spectators thought little of either campaign’s chances, first having to challenge previous Gubernatorial candidate Jesse Ventura who was popular in the fringe party. Despite the media attention, public polling showed any appetite for a third-party candidate to be considerably lower than 1992 or 1996.

    The first Republican debate on October 22nd had eleven people on stage; frontrunner Elizabeth Dole did not attend due to a “scheduling conflict”, a move which was likely a power move to keep her candidacy seen as above the others. The wide number of candidates made the forum unwieldy. Bob Smith’s introduction was just flat out missed as he walked on stage. Alan Keyes and Gary Bauer tried to use vocal outbursts to get any traction. Lamar Alexander and Orrin Hatch were seemingly forgot about halfway through and failed to get any direct questioning. Without Dole, Newt Gingrich was the center of attention. John McCain, Dan Quayle, Jack Kemp, and John Kasich all went on the attack against the former Speaker. Hoping to provoke a response, Gingrich parried rather than attacking back as expected, appearing above the fray. While not widely watched, the post-debate reporting boosted Gingrich’s standing. He was a familiar figure to television news personalities and certainly benefited from simple name recognition.

    The second debate would not be held until December and candidate “cattle calls” defined the schedule. Without funding or much of a backing, Jack Kemp and Lamar Alexander had dropped out. After Gingrich’s boost from the previous debate, Elizabeth Dole’s schedule got worked out and she was able to attend. Being the only woman, the debate’s quality shifted. Gingrich changed strategies and attacked the frontrunner for her lack of campaign experience. John McCain went on the attack as well, citing weakness on foreign policy. But Dole was prepared, deflecting by calling out Gingrich’s failure to contest the midterm losses and “reminding” McCain of her Red Cross experience in turn. The attacks against Dole came off poorly on camera in this more widely watched televised debate. Kasich would seize the moment as well, saying Gingrich was taking credit for Kasich’s work, having been Chairman of the House Budget Committee as they balanced the budget. With Quayle dominating in the ‘family values’ lane, Bauer failed to break through again and would drop out before the end of the year.
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    Ch. 9: New Millennium, New Threats
  • As he prepared for reelection, President Gore was grateful for the relative quiet at home, as issues across the globe continued to flare up through 1999. Being the sole global superpower, the United States and its President continued to be dragged into every global issue. Ehud Barak’s election in Israel was good news for the peace process with Palestine, but the situation continued to be tenuous. India and Pakistan had almost come to a shooting war when some rogue general tried a stupid thing in Kashmir. China had another flair of human rights criticism by trying to crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual movement, something that certainly did not help his Gore’s attempt to open them for preferred trade agreements. Gore’s morning briefing usually contained dozens of other threats or warnings that most Americans never even considered. But his biggest concern was Russia.

    While the peace in Yugoslavia was holding, Russia was seeming like a less stable partner. Dagestan and Chechnya continued to see intermittent fighting. And President Boris Yeltsin was tearing through Prime Ministers as he tried to keep his country and political standing afloat. Kremlinologists speculated what his strategy was, but the best analysis suggested that even Yeltsin did not know what he was doing on a day-to-day basis, a thinking later confirmed by his own accounts in Midnight Diaries. Yeltsin dismissed Prime Minister Sergey Stepashin on August 9 and appointed to the head of the FSB Vladimir Putin to replace him, the third such move in under a year. But the State Duma failed to approve Putin on the first vote. Yeltsin, ever the irrational gambler, rescinded Putin’s appointment and tried to call their bluff – he reappointed former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. Yeltsin said it was either Chernomyrdin or Putin; and given Chernomyrdin’s fall from grace during the Ruble crisis, the choice seemed obvious. But the Kosovo negotiations had increased his standing. The Duma leadership also assumed that Yeltsin would flip and dismiss him soon afterwards anyway. The Duma called Yeltsin’s bluff, and approved Chernomyrdin to once again be Prime Minister. Yeltsin was furious, as was Putin who felt like a pawn. While Gore was happy to see Chernomyrdin back in a position of power, it did not speak to Russia’s stability, especially as it went to war with its own people in Chechnya.

    Chernomyrdin’s Prime Ministry would face immediate challenges. Russian forces crossed back into Chechnya to counter an insurgent attack. Then a series of terrorist bombings rocked the nation. Immediately the FSB identified Chechnyan extremists as the culprits after each attack but doubts remained internationally about the real culpability.


    It was January 1st, 2000. For a second, people held their breath as the clock ticked over. The celebrations paused to make sure there was no doom, apocalyptic or Y2K-related. Thankfully, no doom apocalypse occurred. The new millennium had dawned. President Al Gore celebrated with thousands of others at the Washington Monument, lit up with splendor and glory. A few hours later though, late in the morning, an explosion ripped through a terminal at Los Angeles International Airport. Dozens were dead and wounded. Gore’s assumptions were confirmed by CIA Director George Tenet, who shared the intelligence community’s assessment this was likely again al-Qaeda, now striking on American soil.

    Two days later, in Aden, Yemen, a small watercraft detonated in a suicide attack against the USS The Sullivans. The blast killed multiple sailors and put the ship out of commission. al-Qaeda had apparently coordinated both. While other possible plots had been foiled, the American security apparatus could not stop every threat. The world’s only superpower was not impervious. It was a tense three days, but on January 4th, Ahmed Ressam was detained while trying to slip back into Canada. A nation-wide crackdown on watched terror-related suspects coincided with a world-wide sweep. Most notably, a contemporaneous al-Qaeda meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was broken up by local officials with CIA support. Director Tenet took political heat for the apparent security lapses. In private, he stressed that the world remained a dangerous place, the risks numerous, and their resources were limited to combat these uncertain threats.
    The President addressed the nation the following week, calling for a special commission to investigate the attacks and what could have been done to stop them. Ressam had been on terrorist watch lists but had still entered the country. In his State of the Union a few weeks later, Gore preempted some of the suggestions that would come out of the Hart-Rudman Task Force on Homeland Security and asked Congress to review potential structural reforms of the intelligence community. He refused calls to replace Tenet, whose standing with Congress improved with well received briefings and hearings that late winter and early spring.

    While the country reeled from more acts of modern terrorism and looked to security reforms, President Gore had also been keeping an eye on the economy. The booming 90s had begun to show signs that it was fading in the new millennium. The stock market gains were not going to last forever, with experts expecting the “bubble to pop” for at least two years now. The Federal Reserve had increased interest rates several times in the past year to adjust and prepare for a “soft landing” of the economy. Payrolls were still growing but everyone knew it would not last for long. With the economy on the cusp, Gore did not appoint Alan Greenspan to another term as Chairman. Instead, he appointed Roger Ferguson. It was somewhat of a shock to outside observers. Greenspan had been in the role for 13 years and was seen as the architect of 90s prosperity. Ferguson, despite some policy agreements, was effectively being groomed by Greenspan, but the outgoing Chairman had planned on one more term. This caused some raised eyebrows in Washington and on Wall Street. With his reelection in sight, Gore needed to adjust his messaging and his priorities. Ferguson brought a new philosophy to the Federal Reserve, looking to modernize its communication and focus on how technology impacted financial markets. While grilled by Senate Republicans, Greenspan vouched for his deputy, and Ferguson made history as the first African-American Federal Reserve Chairman.

    As the primary season began, Gore began to openly campaign as well. Without any serious competition (i.e. only Lyndon LaRouche), Gore used the primaries as a warm-up for the general election. Iowa and New Hampshire would likely be swing states in this election against whomever succeeded on the Republican side. Internally, Vice President Cohen had yet to acclimate to his Constitutionally powerless role. Gore, despite his sympathy for the position, had difficultly letting go of decision-making and delegating to his Vice President. Cohen was a foreign policy expect, but Gore was as well. Nominally independent at this point, Cohen for obvious reasons was not interested in partisan campaigning. He had agreed to serve his country in a moment of crisis, which had passed. Serious talks were happening behind closed doors and less serious talks were happening on opinion pages – who would add value to a ticket for a Gore?
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    Ch. 10: The GOP Nominee
  • The dual Millennium attacks had a notable impact on the Republican primary. Unexpectedly, national security was again a subject of concern on the campaign trail. Republican kitchen table issues like social security solvency, school choice, and health care reforms took a step back for at least a few weeks. Senator John McCain had planned on skipping the Iowa caucuses, due to his vocal stance against ethanol. But with the attacks, his campaign made a last-ditch push and swing through Iowa as the strongest candidate on security. He called the attacks nothing short of an act of war. McCain also said that the attacks would not have happened if the Democrats and Gore had not been so distracted covering up for Clinton’s mess. The Gore White House responded by saying they would refrain from politicizing the loss of American lives. On January 20th, the President Gore announced cruise missile strikes had again been launched into Afghanistan, as happened in 1998. He also promised the American people that he was determined to have a long-term solution for the hotbed of terrorism.

    The Iowa caucuses, as primaries often do, turned into an expectations game. Front-runner Elizabeth Dole garnered less than 40% of the vote. Dan Quayle, who had aggressive local organizers based around faith groups, surprised many by coming in second, albeit more than 10 points behind Dole. He was followed by Steve Forbes (who had existing organization from 1996), and then John McCain came in fourth. McCain was hurt by his national spotlight but local failure. He hoped to regain ground two weeks later in New Hampshire, a state that may award what being labeled a “maverick” campaign.

    But a different candidate had beat him to the punch. While McCain’s campaign had made a last-minute change and attempted a national push, John Kasich had never left the Granite State. A late endorsement in the primary by The Boston Globe gave him a final push, coming in first by single-digits over McCain. Dole, although seen as the national front-runner, did not seriously campaign in the state and came in third. Trying to winnow down the crowded field, observers started to see the race as compressed to four candidates – Dole, Quayle, McCain, and Kasich. Despite his former prestige and inside credentials, Newt Gingrich was frustrated by his lack of connection with the larger public. The six debates held in January did not help the matter. Gingrich seemed frustrated by the effort, like he was owed the candidacy after his time as Speaker.

    Kasich, who had been sort of ignored before by most reporting, saw a massive swell in media coverage. Youthful, detailed, and apparently decent, he was a mirror image of Bill Clinton 8 years prior, without the baggage. His personal story, the son of a mailman, was a throwback that played well with Republican nostalgia. Reporters relished his seemingly endless appetite at diners and restaurants on the campaign trail. But without the resources of the heavy-hitters, Kasich had difficulty breaking through the machines of other campaigns though. Dole would win Delaware on February 8th and then McCain in South Carolina, although sharing delegates with Dole and Quayle.

    Arizona, home state to Quayle and McCain (Quayle only moving a few years earlier), was not close, with the Senator winning handedly. The same night, Kasich won Michigan by a slight margin over Dole, buoying his campaign. The Dole campaign grew concerned by its inability to break apart from the pack. Quayle seemed to be eating into her natural evangelical base; McCain was peeling away some outsider credentials. With the largest war chest, the previously sunny campaign went on a hard offensive. Push polls and anonymous fliers began to swirl. Voters were asked if they would vote for McCain if they knew if he was an atheist, or that he had mental imbalance issues after his war experience, or both. Rumors began swirling about Quayle’s health, saying he had not contested the 1996 election possibly because of cancer. It was dirty, bare-knuckle politics that Elizabeth Dole denounced publicly. And it worked.

    Dole won Virginia on the 29th; then on Super Tuesday she carried California, New York, Washington, Missouri, Minnesota, Maryland, and Maine. Despite the media darling statuses of McCain and Kasich, it failed to compete with the developed machine of Dole. It was a delegate lead that no other candidate was likely to overcome. Gingrich (winning only his home state of Georgia), Kasich (having won Ohio), and Quayle all withdrew and endorsed Dole in the next couple days. McCain, incensed by the attacks against him, refused to withdraw until a week later, failing to win any more contests. And even after suspending his campaign, McCain did not immediately endorse Dole like the other candidates had.

    On March 15th, Elizabeth Dole was de facto the first woman to be a presidential candidate from a major party.

    Ch. 11: “A Proportional Response”
  • “A Proportional Response” was the title of the episode, the President was told. Al Gore had not seen The West Wing (he was a bit busy, after all), but the new show was popular in D.C., for obvious reasons. Judging by the explanation given by his aides after he quizzed them on what they meant, it seemed to be apt for the current scenario. He was Commander-in-Chief of the United States military, with all the might of being the world’s only superpower, and still Gore felt entirely powerless in this situation. What could tank battalions do against shadowy terrorist cells?

    The second round of air strikes into the mountains of Afghanistan seemed to have produced the same limited results as the 1998 strikes. Arrests had been made in the United States and globally (in such wildly different places as Yemen, Germany, and Malaysia), but that was mostly behind the scenes work. The media landscape had changed since the last similar international terror incident, the 1993 World Trade center bombing. The 24-hour news diet seemed to do nothing but stoke the flames of fear. A rash of hate crimes had targeted immigrant communities, limited mostly vandalism so far. Heightened and more visible travel security made the public more concerned, raising new ideas in people. What if he had made it on a plane? How many more are hiding among us? This all compared to the much more destructive Oklahoma City bombing, which did not lead to the same sense of fear. That was a ‘lone wolf’ from within, in the minds of Americans.

    Complicating the matter was just the raw politics of it as well. The election had spiked the partisan commentary regarding terrorism and defense. Elizabeth Dole, cruising to the nomination at this point, had co-opted some of the language her competitors had been using, particularly the phrase “act of war”. She also highlighted on the Millennium bomber slipping across the border, calling for a crackdown on immigration. Newt Gingrich and John McCain were now surrogates for her campaign on foreign security matters, calling the President’s response weak and ineffectual.

    Gore’s initial rally after the Millennium bombings had fallen back. While his disapprovals were not bad, Gore was still trailing in comparison to Dole by 5-10 points in some polls once she had effectively clenched the Republican nomination. It was certainly a bounce that would fade some but it was still worrying. People wanted some “change” after 8 years, despite not sharing a definition of what that may be, and Gore did not seem to have much of the same incumbency advantage, having inherited the office. Dole, on the other hand, had the coverage boom of being the first major-party female candidate. Her light southern charm was well received in the popular media, as it had been in the 1996 campaign as the candidate’s wife. As would become routine for political figures in the 2000s, Dole made a surprise appearance on Saturday Night Live, “surprising” Ana Gasteyer’s version. The sketch was about who would be her running mate, with Gasteyer’s unassumingly Machiavellian version of Dole concluding that the only worthy running mate was herself. The real Dole posed has her reflection, talking her caricature into accepting a different person as a running mate, but not Bob with a surprise return of Norm McDonald.

    But off the campaign trail, the President had been demanding a more muscular response to counter al-Qaeda. Congress had been notified that there had been troops deployed to Afghanistan in February. The radically conservative government of Afghanistan, known as the Taliban, was the host and protector of al-Qaeda bases in the country, as well as other terrorist organizations. Special forces were operating on the ground alongside a resistance group called the Northern Alliance to counter the Taliban government, although direct action was on a small scale and slow to show results. A diplomatic effort was underway as well, with the US successfully lobbying the UN for an arms embargo against the Taliban government and assets freezes. The arms embargo all but called out Pakistan for its role in fueling the conflict in its neighbor. The relationship between Pakistan and the United States remained rocky, with conflicting interests overlapping in the region, and the calculus shifting as the United States figured out its post-Cold War priorities.

    Shortly after Dole became the de facto Republican nominee, Gore approved for her to start receiving classified intelligence briefings. Although not coordinated with the Gore campaign, the Dole campaign’s criticism became pointedly less critical of the President on the subject, knowing the lives of servicemen and -women were at stake. Still, there were plenty of Republicans not in the know to make the attacks on her behalf. In early April, President Gore was facing the deadline for Congressional approval for the use of force in Afghanistan and formally requested an authorization for use of military force. The request involved tricky political calculus and the Gore White House needed to outline clear goals for the action.


    Despite the Republican opposition, President Al Gore found some of his most frustrating moments in 2000 coming from disputes with his own party, particularly with Speaker Dick Gephardt. Even though they both had “Ds” by their titles, their interests were increasingly divided on economic issues. After inheriting the office, President Gore had tried to continue with the “third way” economic policies that Clinton had found success with, but Gephardt’s base was more old-school labor Democratic politics; and he wielded quite a bit of power with the gavel. Gephardt was holding-up several financial reform policies, like the Commodities Reform Act, for his own priorities. The replacement of Greenspan as Federal Chairman, although not specifically a demand of Gephardt’s, signaled an openness by the White House to change. While on a campaign swing through Missouri, Gore and Gephardt would strike an agreement that would start laying down a balanced platform for the Democrats to support in November.

    Gephardt’s pro-labor regulations and Gore’s pro-business reforms would find a balance somewhere in the middle. Commodities reform would be brought to the floor, with some adjustments, including requiring a third-party clearing house for trades and tighter 401(k) regulation to ensure American retirements were secure, according to Gephardt. While Gephardt refused to allow it this year, opening trade with China could move forward as a priority of the Democratic Party, as well as the stated goal of a “global minimum wage”, although the details remained fuzzy on that last part. Most of the language would actually be arranged by aides prior to the meeting and after by party officials who rolled out the plank at the Convention in August. Still, the “St. Louis summit” signaled a de-escalation between the two wings of the party and unification prior to the election.

    Gore’s running mate as still an open question. It was all by guaranteed that Vice President Cohen would not campaign on a Democratic ticket, despite his working relationship with the President. While the official line of the Gore campaign was that Cohen was a loyal ally of the President, Cohen had obviously been forced into the role by circumstance of duty and did not want any involvement in the party politics of the matter. Most of the names being considered by the media were complimentary to Gore and his campaign’s slogan "Leadership for the New Millennium". As the sitting President, the Gore campaign was signaling a choice that was most prudent for the country, who reflected “continued change” and good government service. These names included John Kerry, John Edwards, Evan Bayh, and Joe Biden. All were Senators that Gore had good working relationships with. Additionally, all were men.

    Elizabeth Dole was a history making candidate, and the electoral reality could not be ignored. Gore was still trailing in most polls, albeit with high undecided numbers. Facing against the first major female candidate, Gore would need some response to keep those “soccer moms” in the Democratic camp. Geraldine Ferraro’s pick 16 years prior was the last serious consideration of a woman by Democratic presidential politics. Was it not time for another? Jeanne Shaheen, Blanche Lincoln, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, and Mary Landrieu were suggested possibilities.

    The final factor was that Gore could not run again for President in 2004, being term-limited. Assuming the best, his Vice President would be a potential frontrunner in 2004. If he picked a young and viable candidate as his running mate, like Bayh or Edwards, was he playing kingmaker? Gore was already getting calls that if he attempted to pick a running mate as his anointed successor, it would guarantee more internal strife for the party. These calls often came from camps that were interested in 2004 and knew they were not on the shortlist.

    The Dole campaign, meanwhile, was attempting to switch from the primary to the general campaign with their own speculation about running mates. This was made clear when the candidate herself announced her campaign was going to “pivot”, saying the quiet part loud and stirring controversy with the party base. Dole was an unorthodox candidate, never having ran for office before herself. Her Red Cross service, seen previously as an asset, was now coming under scrutiny as the public asked about her compensation and expenses while serving as the charity’s president. Along with the pivot gaffe, being the center of attention meant her own words were scrutinized far more than when she was the candidate’s wife. Comments on the “lack of disciple” in the Littleton shooting came off as cold-hearted.

    With the repetitive coverage of the general campaign, Dole’s luster was starting to wear off by the convention in July. Her delivery, once lauded, was now covered as “robotic” and gossip stories started to leak out of the staff, with an anonymous source saying she was the “Stepford” candidate. The entertainment media that had been desperate to book her just a few months early were now making jokes at her expense, saying she made Al Gore seem likeable. While sympathetic columnists like Maureen Dowd were arguing that this level of control were an asset, the stilted campaign performance was inevitably viewed through traditional gendered roles. Dole was seen as the strict mom, Gore as the dorky dad. Private citizen Hillary Clinton, previously the target of Dole’s criticism, was working through her own personal issues and staying out of the public eye that election cycle; but she did share with close friends that “turnabout was fair play.”

    With the Republican National Convention first, the Dole campaign’s own running mate search was an open question with an earlier deadline. Dole’s campaign was telegraphing that they were looking for a candidate that matched her brand of “courageous conservatism.” Former primary opponents John McCain, John Kasich, and Newt Gingrich were all loyal surrogates for Dole, touring the country on her behalf. Orrin Hatch was too, but Dole, 12 years older than Gore, could use a youthful running mate. Alternatively, being an electoral outsider, she could also be helped by a Congressional insider and dealmaker, like Mitch McConnell or Connie Mack III. Internal polling showed her lagging on defense and foreign policy, traditionally a Republican strength. Former generals Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. and Colin Powell were suggested to boost her in this area. Some pundits were suggesting a wildcard choice of an all-female Republican ticket, with Dole perhaps choosing Christie Todd Whitman as her running mate.

    To heighten the drama, the Dole campaign decided to wait until the week of the convention to make their choice public. The Gore campaign, in attempt to limit the convention bounce, would announce just days after the RNC.
    Ch. 12: Conventions
  • The Republican and Democratic Conventions were just two weeks apart. Taking place on both coasts, in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, the end of July through mid-August was a whirlwind of political circus. Philadelphia, still reeling from a public police brutality incident the week before, was sweating in the summer heat. Protests would mark both conventions,with shows of heavy police deployments who feared a repeat of the 1999 WTO incidents. Despite the chaos outside, both conventions inside were the professionally manicured events as the media expected. Bruce Willis and The Rock added some star power to the RNC, perhaps to counter the usual Hollywood coolness of the Democrats. Not to be outdone, Gore’s college roommate Tommy Lee Jones gave his official nomination.

    The day before the Republican National Convention, the news “leaked” (was placed by the campaign) that Elizabeth Dole had selected a running mate – John Kasich. 48, the Republican Congressman brought boyish charm, working class Midwest credentials, and Washington know-how. His acceptance speech focused on these assets, and relied heavily on his personal narrative, like being the son of a mailman. John McCain and Colin Powell were given the other prime speaking slots, to shore up the primary contests and also Dole’s continued perceived weakness on security.

    Elizabeth Dole faced an issue of expectations. Her 1996 speech had been considered the highlight of the RNC that year. It was not a surprise that her 2000 nomination acceptance speech did not live up to challenge. She played it safe with the usual stump about her courageous conservativism and hit hard on defending American values, home and abroad. Educational reform, tax cuts, and social values remain the bread and butter of Republican politics. Opinion polling showed that those who had watched the speech had a more positive opinion than those who only followed the reporting on it, even when adjusted for partisan views.

    Then, as promised, a few days after the RNC the Gore campaign débuted their running mate. It was at that point clear that Gore needed a woman as his running mate to blunt some of Dole’s appeal. In Miami, Al Gore was joined on stage by California Senator Dianne Feinstein. While not an ideological balance, being solidly in the third way camp with Gore, Feinstein represented geographic and demographic balance. Her focus on domestic reform in health care and gun control was balanced with a strong defense record as well. Additionally, Feinstein would make history as the first Jewish candidate on a major party ticket.

    feinstein 2000.png

    Gore’s campaign had undergone recent changes, with his previous campaign manager Tony Coelho resigning due to health concerns. Deputy campaign manager Donna Brazile would take over in his stead, becoming the first African-American woman to manage a major party presidential campaign. DNC debuted a renewed focus by the Gore campaign on the economy and a more populist message by the Democrats. The plank was more liberal than the policies of the Clinton White House, but not outside of the mainstream. Media strategists for the Gore campaign pushed a populist tone, of community effort and public participation. Even though Gore’s speech was considered one of the best he had ever given, mostly people remembered the passionate kiss he gave his wife Tipper on stage. Another tricky tightrope for the Democrats was how to handle the “Clinton question”. While popular with most of the party, the president had resigned only two years ago in disgrace. A compromise was determined that he and his wife Hillary would be invited and acknowledged, but not be given any speaking slot.

    As the protests at the RNC and DNC personified, there existed a dissatisfied political energy in the country, even if it was not recognized in mainstream discourse. After the campaigns of right-wing populist Pat Buchanan and celebrity billionaire Donald Trump fizzled out, Jesse Ventura secured the mantle of the weakened Reform Party, which still had matching federal funds. Meanwhile, Green candidate Ralph Nader had leveraged his years of activism into a national platform. Both campaigns had started with a great deal of hope. While both Reform and Green efforts made some splashes with their initial campaign launches, the grind of reality set in by the time of the major party conventions and were failing to gain more mainstream traction. Notable internet interests was not translating to the real world.

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    Both claimed to be the “real third party” alternative and were frustrated that the media were placing them together in a side bucket. Ventura and Nader as candidates openly lamented that the existence of “another” visible third-party tickets cut into their coverage. An effort to have an ‘alternative’ debate between Ventura and Nader also fizzled out due to seemingly irreconcilable differences.
    Ch. 12: 2000 Election Stretch

  • After the conventions, the Gore campaign seized onto a modest and steady rise in polling through August and September. Gore’s good times were buoyed by his appearance at the 2000 Summer Olympics, where the United States would win the medal count. Media appearances with Oprah, Letterman, Regis, and other television shows dotted the campaign schedules. Gore even appeared on MTV to rally the youth vote.

    Meanwhile, there were some governance concerns. Oil prices were reaching an all-time high, hitting Americans were it hurt. A minor release of the strategic oil reserve was recommended by the White House economists and Department of Energy. Gore, ever the pragmatist, approved the release, leading to temporary relief. The Dole campaign criticized it as politically motivated. For a long-term solution, Dole and Kasich called for expanded oil and gas production, while Gore referenced the Kyoto Protocol and called for a domestic renewable energy surge. In late September, Energy Secretary Elizabeth Moler testified to the Senate that the strategic reserve decision was not politically motivated while the President touted another record budget surplus.

    The race between the two major party candidates remained tight. Gore struggled to gain traction in his native south against Dole, nominally from North Carolina. Feinstein had secured big California spending for the Democrats and was campaigning regularly in New Jersey, Florida, and the northeast. Kasich was on a Midwest swing of the “rust belt”, seemingly eating at ever diner he could. The focus remained on Dole and Gore. An estimated 48 million viewers watched the first Presidential debate on October 3rd. Overall, the debate was considered boring. Gore, typically a fighter in debates, refrained from directly attacking Dole. He was afraid of the optics given his opponent was a woman. Even with the caution, he was first to walk into a trap.

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    Gore questioned Dole’s experience, saying that as President he had to deal with decisions in “literally life and death situations”. Dole, ready for the critique, chuckled and suggested that maybe Gore was not familiar with the work the Red Cross did. She then immediately stumbled though when asked about her compensation level as Red Cross president. In a very rehearsed manner, she began listing off the compensation statistics for other major charities, to such a length that the audience lost the reason for doing so. In the inevitable SNL parody, Darrell Hammond’s Gore was shown as passive and demure to Ana Gastayer’s Dole, who continued to recite statics and trivia facts unprompted.

    Two days later the Vice-Presidential debate between Feinstein and Kasich proved an odd matching. Feinstein, probably in part because she was a Jewish woman who had also been married three times, was getting specific criticism from social conservatives as a “San Francisco liberal”. The reaction from the left, who were still muted in their support for Gore, was to circle the wagon around Feinstein. Instead of speaking about her interesting and varied career, focused on policy and issues rather than her personal story. Kasich instead largely danced around them to talk about values and his personal message. It seemed to reflect their age difference. Feinstein maybe saw the Vice Presidency being the cap of her career, while for Kasich the debate was his debut as a national figure. Sitting at a table, it was calm and conversational, and the two running mates basically had separate conversations with the moderator.

    In the middle of the campaign, Congress was failing to pass a new budget. Gore again had to sign another stop-gap resolution on October 14th. It was three days after the second debate, which many considered him to be the victor. Gore adjusted his approach and engaged and debated with Dole directly. He critiqued the Republican tax plan as “same old ideas with a new face.” Elizabeth Dole turned to an attack pose also focusing on Republican social values. Dole attempted to bring Clinton’s indiscretions back into the debate as well, saying that “Gore and Clinton could not keep their own house in order, let alone the White House.” Dole knew she had made an error when the audience groaned in response. While still a sore spot with the Republican base, Clinton had been out of office for over two years and the general public was rather tired of relitigating the scandal. In response, Gore said, “I’ve heard a lot of crazy conspiracy theories from the right these past few years, but that the former President and myself were living together… well, that’s a new one to me,” receiving modest chuckles from the audience. The mediator Jim Lehrer reminded the audience to hold their responses until the end.

    By the third debate, the Gore campaign had hit their messaging – Republicans were trying to divide the country, and he was a unifier. They had pushed Clinton out of office when the country and economy were going well. Dole pivoted from trying to tie to Clinton’s scandal to criticizing Gore’s own record – from campaign finance concerns to pro-choice positions to leaving America “weak overseas”. The media environment provided instant spin. Reporters who were in the room thought Dole worked well in the town hall setting, and Gore seemed aloof with the people. But for how it was viewed on the television, the Gore campaign had done their homework. Gore was staged correctly, knowing where all the cameras were. When responding, he spoke directly into the cameras, to the American people in their homes. While Gore was talking, Dole was sitting in the background, staring directly into the back of Gore’s head the entire time with little reaction. The media continued to engage in sexist tropes with their coverage, repeating the use of “Stepford” in describing her seeming lack of reaction by Dole.

    Despite all the television drama, polls were within the margin of error. Engagement remained low with the public at large. With the debates not moving the needle much, it was clear that Election Day was going to be tight.
    Ch. 13: Nov. 2000 - Sep. 2001
  • The pundits got it wrong. There were signs that something was amiss with the conventional wisdom early. Turnout was low, almost as low than 1996. With the good economy, perhaps people did not care that much about politics - an idea unthinkable to those whose favorite show was The West Wing.

    By 748pm et, Florida had been called for Gore. With a Republican Governor, potential candidate George Bush’s brother Jeb, many predicted Dole would carry the state with her focus on ‘southern values’. Then at 849pm et, Pennsylvania was called for Gore as well. With Rust Belt resident Kasich as her running mate, optimistic polling had seen the Keystone State as a potential swing to Dole as well. Winning Tennessee, Gore’s home state, was a morale booster for the Dole campaign but did little to change the final calculus.

    New Hampshire was called for Gore at 1005pm. Missouri was too close to call still. It was bad news for Dole - moderate, working class white votes were not breaking her way, or maybe they had just stayed home. By 1100pm, Gore was sitting at a likely 269. The writing was on the wall, but the final nail in the coffin was when Nevada was called after midnight eastern time. With just 4 electoral votes, The Silver State secured the election for the Democratic ticket.

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    President Al Gore was elected in his own right, with thin margins in many states. It was confirmed later that he would win over 50%, something Clinton never did... 50.02% percent but it still counted. While the Gore campaign celebrated, Dole and her team was only left to ask – what happened? Various columns and autopsies flew around in the days after the election prescribing their analyses of what happened. While there were some differences, two main themes became clear after the dust settled. Polling showed Dole with leads in the past week, but a fair amount of undecided and she was rarely outside of the margin of error. The panels of experts and 24 analysis that had been playing over CNN and across the other networks had been leaning towards Dole, but perhaps failed to express the nuance of the close election.

    First, Dole was hit by a lack of support with Hispanic voters. The 2000 census showed the Hispanic population was up 9% since 1990, albeit the voting population was smaller. Still, they proved to be a critical swing group in Florida and Nevada. Most polling had apparently under-surveyed the minority community. The Republican party had been in a debate over how to tackle immigration issues, with some voices like Bush and McCain had been taking a more moderate, reform-minded approach. But Dole had ran on a stricter platform. She restated her support for CA Prop 187, which attempted to restrict public services to undocumented immigrants, early in the primaries. While largely uncommented on in mainstream reporting, Dole had a record of quotes regarding restricting immigration in her campaign, even restricting refugees in a way that seemed unsympathetic and perhaps even punitive.

    Second, there was definitely an impact of gender-motivated voting, a sexist swing against Dole. The traditional gender breakdown of women slightly preferring the Democratic ticket and men slightly preferring the Republican ticket remained in 2000, even with Dole on the Republican ticket. Dole did make some inroads, but Gore won women 52-48. The noticeable issue was a decline in male turnout, traditionally more Republican leaning, making up about 46% of the electorate. In 1999, 8% of Gallup poll respondents openly said they would not support a woman for President, while there was likely a larger group who either misled the poll or thought “well, not this woman.” This group opposing a woman being President did lean Republican as well, and some of the conservative base stayed home instead of voting.

    Elizabeth Dole had done better than her husband, who lost by a far wider electoral vote 4 years earlier, but it still was not enough.

    Down ballot in the House, the Democrats only gained three seats, adding just a little padding to their slim majority. The gubernatorial races only saw two flips, with Democrats winning in West Virginia and Montana.

    The Senate contests were more interesting. Zell Miller, who had been appointed the Senate after the sudden death of Paul Coverdell earlier that year, was elected to the full term as a Democrat from Georgia. In California, with Feinstein running as Vice President, the suddenly open election ended with Speaker of the Assembly Antonio Villaraigosa winning the Democratic nomination and seat. He became the first Hispanic-American Senator from California and only one currently seated in the Senate.

    Republican Senate wins in Nevada and Virginia were countered by Democrat flips in Delaware, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, and Washington. With those pick-ups, the Democrats had a working majority of 51 seats, making Tom Daschle in-line to be the Majority Leader in January. With the results as they were, Jim Jeffords, a liberal Republican Senator from Vermont, announced that winter that he was leaving the party to be an Independent, caucusing with the Democrats who would have 52 seats effectively. The fact that Jeffords was assigned the Senate Environment Committee chair after switching sides was certainly a coincidence.

    In the days after the election, Gore told the press that “he had a mandate now, and he was going to use it.”


    Soon after his first and last Presidential victory, President Al Gore began to implement a long desired de facto Presidential transition. He would only have one full term and needed to establish his own legacy, separate from that of Bill Clinton. While he had made some staff changes already, the election had secured him his own, earned administration to be appointed as he saw fit. Even though he was already President, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott refused to hear any appointments during the lame duck session, holding firm until the 107th Congress.

    President: Dianne Feinstein (D)
    President pro tempore: Robert Byrd (D)

    Majority (Democratic) leadership
    Majority Leader: Tom Daschle
    Majority Whip: Harry Reid

    Minority (Republican) leadership
    Minority Leader: Trent Lott
    Minority Whip: Don Nickles

    House of Representatives
    Speaker: Dick Gephardt

    Majority (Democratic) leadership
    Majority Leader: Nita Lowey
    Majority Whip: David E. Bonior

    Minority (Republican) leadership
    Minority Leader: Bill Paxon
    Minority Whip: Dennis Hastert

    2001 Gore Administration
    President – Al Gore
    Vice President – Dianne Feinstein

    Secretary of State – Richard Holbrooke
    Secretary of the Treasury – Larry Summers
    Secretary of Defense – Sheila Widnall
    Attorney General – Eric Holder*
    Secretary of the Interior – Robert Stanton
    Secretary of Agriculture – John Kitzhaber
    Secretary of Commerce – Aida Álvarez
    Secretary of Labor – Ron Klink
    Secretary of Health and Human Services – Nancy-Ann Min DeParle
    Secretary of Housing and Urban Development – Norm Rice
    Secretary of Transportation – Parris Glendening
    Secretary of Energy – Elizabeth Moler*
    Secretary of Education – James B. Hunt Jr.
    Secretary of Veterans Affairs – Togo D. West Jr.

    White House Chief of Staff – Ron Klain

    Trade Representative – Charlene Barshefsky
    Director of the Office of Management and Budget – Erskine Bowles

    Ambassador to the United Nations – Jim Sasser

    Director of Central Intelligence – George Tenet*
    Director of National Drug Control Policy – Richard Carmona
    National Security Advisor – Leon Feurth
    Solicitor General – Barbara Underwood
    Director of Environmental Protection Agency – Katie McGinty
    Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation – Jim Johnson
    Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency - Edward D. Baca
    Administrator of the Small Business Administration – Fred Hochberg

    Chairman of the Federal Reserve – Roger Ferguson*


    Some appointments were long seen coming and expected, most notably Richard Holbrooke as Secretary of State and James Hunt for Education. Others were like Ron Klink, likely only appointed to Labor after a close Senate race loss in Pennsylvania. Notable among the appointments were Kitzhaber and Glendening, who were term-limited Governor and could not run again 2002. Their Lieutenant Governors were elevated and perhaps be in better standing to win in the 2002 midterms.

    The first fully appointed Gore Cabinet would include notable steps towards a diversity that matched the nation as well. Along with the first female Vice President, several other women would join Moler in the Gore Cabinet. Sheila Widnall, former Secretary of the Air Force, was nominated and confirmed as the first female Secretary of Defense, although the hearings did some bruising by relitigating the Kelly Flinn scandal. Small Business Administrator Aida Álvarez became the first Hispanic Commerce Secretary. Gore also nominated Principal Deputy Solicitor General Barbara Underwood for the primary gig, making her the first woman to fill the role. Park Service Director Robert Stanton was nominated to be the first African-American Secretary of the Interior. Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Min DeParle would become the first Asian-American Cabinet member when approved as the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

    While he was already President, Gore’s inauguration became a focus of critical attention for messaging from the White House. They had one shot at this term and they intended it to continue the fresh break from Clintonian scandal. Ignoring the rain, Gore’s inauguration speech invoked the new millennium heavily, with the usual platitudes about the American spirit and calling for a national renewal. Gore, never a robust orator, mustered his best for the moment. The former President did attend the speech and some of the balls afterwards, as was tradition. Most of his outstanding legal concerns had been settled out of court. The Clintons had moved to New York, with Hillary joining a legal practice in the city while he decided what to do next.

    Having already served three years as President, Gore’s second term hit the ground running now that Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress, even with slim majorities. As his new appointments were on-going, Gore attempted to set newly strengthened domestic and foreign policy agendas.

    While US operations were on-going but low-key in Afghanistan, Gore also wanted to prioritize preparing the homeland. The U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century presented its suggestions at the end of January and were used as a template for necessary reforms. Suggesting reorganizations in the Defense and State departments, its biggest change was the proposed creation of a new independent National Homeland Security Agency to coordinate interdepartmental actions, with Congressional special select committees to match. Gore intended to appoint former Assistant Defense Secretary Ashton Carter as the agency head and named Carter to the new title of Homeland Security Advisor in the meantime. The effort would be the largest overhaul of the national security strategy and apparatus since the beginning of the Cold War, and with razor-thin margins in Congress it could easily be derailed. The effort was given new life however with the announcement of FBI agent Robert Hanssen’s arrest as a Russian spy, reemphasizing the need for intelligence reform to many in Congress.

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    Outside of the effort against al-Qaeda and international terrorism, Gore’s primary focus was on threat containment. Closely related to the fight against terrorism, Pakistan, after narrowing avoiding one military coup, succumbed to a swift and fairly bloodless one in February. Newly elected Russian President Yevgeny Primakov and his Prime Minister Vladimir Putin continued their internal war with Chechnya. Iraq was contained but Gore always faced political pressure to take a more active approach. The President had tried to start Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, but they struggled to take off. More successful were North Korean nuclear talks, with outgoing Secretary of State Madeline Albright joining William Perry in the delegation. President Al Gore gave a unified vision of his goals and more to a Joint Session of Congress in late February. It was light on foreign policy specifics. His domestic goals were in four main pillars – tax and economic reform, healthcare, environmental protection, and education. Gore called on Congress to establish three new Trust Funds to ensure a continued focus on these issues as budgetary priorities.

    The first large domestic effort Gore rolled out was on education – proposing universal preschool, a federal teacher corps, additional federal money to support smaller classrooms and “second chance” schools, and new family leave proposals for parents and guardians to attend school events. With the federal government running a surplus, Education Secretary Hunt had considerable bandwidth to work with Congress and Gore let him spearhead the effort on a long leash. While the White House used the language of “school choice”, new money for private school vouchers were nowhere to be found in Gore or Hunt’s initial proposals.

    The core of Gore’s tax and economic reform proposals were $500 billion in tax cuts and credits. The cuts were mostly in the form of expanded or new targeted deductions for retirement, child, and medical expenses. Along with the cuts, Gore proposed strengthening tax credits for Americans making up to $60,000, targeting childcare, retirement, and housing. New credits were added to specifically encourage energy efficient car and home purchases. Of particular note, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) saw significant expansion and strengthening. Passed in June, the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 was an easy win for the President.

    A more difficult push was on his broader environmental efforts. Gore publicly stressed the need to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, but it would prove difficult to find any traction even with a Democrat-controlled Senate, and privately Gore shared doubts it would ever be ratified. Blue Dog Senators from the south, a group he used to be most closely associated with, were now his largest hurdle. To achieve actual successes, the Gore administration attempted to combine the efforts of economic stimulus and energy independence into a single push. Proposing a Clean Air Act for the new millennium, Gore’s proposal was to bundle market-based mechanisms and economic regulations into funding and prioritization of green development proposals of “greening” power and transportation in the country. Those federal investments would take shape in credits to individuals and business, and grants to state and local government. A crisis gave Gore the chance to demonstrate this focus in action.

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    Just before Gore’s inauguration, California Gray Davis had declared a state of emergency as the most populated state in the union faced rolling blackouts and skyrocketing costs. President Gore flew to Sacramento to stand side-by-side with the Governor and called for federal intervention in the matter. While the Congress began its slow grind, Gore announced executive actions, providing emergency Treasury funds to bail out the California energy market and directed the EPA to regulate carbon as an air pollutant. Meanwhile, energy trading company Enron was making massive gains on Wall Street.

    As these efforts were on-going, the President was facing a notable slowdown in the economy. The country was sliding into a recession. The Federal Reserve had and was planning more interest rate increases to in an attempt to protect the larger economy from the apparently over inflated Stock Market. NASDAQ had crashed the previous year with what was being called the “dot-com bubble” and Gore’s advisors expected a drop in the Dow Jones to follow. EGTTRA and his green energy stimulus were part of the effort to combat this.

    April 9, 2001, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States John Paul Stevens sent a letter to President Gore to announce his resignation at the end of the Court’s current term. 81 years old, Stevens did not give a specific reason for his retirement. The announcement was not unanticipated, and Gore already had a working shortlist - Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the Second Circuit, Judges Diane Pamela Wood and Ann Claire Williams of the Seventh Circuit, and Judge Merrick B. Garland of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Stevens, a Chicago native and himself of the Seventh Circuit, may have helped direct the Administration to favor Wood and Williams. On May 10, from the Rose Garden President Gore announced he was appointing Judge Diane Wood to the Supreme Court. With Wood, the count of women on the highest court in the land was brought up to three and it was also notable because she had not gone to an Ivy League school.

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    Stephen Breyer had been confirmed 87 to 9 in 1994. But a lot had changed in Washington since then. Gingrich’s revolution in those midterms, the Clinton scandal and resignation, and close 2000 election had left a sour taste in the mouth of those who previously called for bipartisan cooperation. Despite having the majority in the Senate, 60 votes were still required to evoke cloture and bring Wood’s nation to the floor. Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott publicly raised the idea that Republicans may filibuster her nomination. But Stevens being replaced by Wood would not change the ideological balance of the court and the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee Orrin Hatch saw no reason after the hearings to deny the President his choice and the majority of the Republicans on the committee voted in favor cloture as well. After some protest votes recorded on the Senate floor, Diane Wood was eventually confirmed to the Supreme Court.
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    Ch. 14: 9/11 and On
  • johnson.png

    FBI Director Jim Johnson began his tenure September 4, 2001. He had previously served as Under Secretary of the Treasury for Enforcement, a role which included overseeing the ATF, Secret Service and Customs Service. He had made news for his role in the investigation of black church arson attacks in the 90s and in the wake of Columbine, being a visible advocate for gun control. As the first black FBI Director, he was a historic choice. With Attorney General Eric Holder, America’s two top cops being black was a powerful image. He was also controversial to some, as Republicans raised concerns about his focus on gun control. The threatened vetoes did not come to fruition, however, as Johnson’s service record spoke louder than the political machinations of the Senate and he was confirmed.

    The threat of terrorism had been a key matter in his appointment hearings. The LAX bomber Ahmed Ressam’s trial was on-going, despite his relative cooperation with the authorities. Multiple other suspected terrorists had been detained or flagged during entry to the United States. While the public face of the Gore Administration was one of confidence in the fight against terrorism, reports and documents from the era show that the threat persisted.

    On September 11, one week to the day after taking office, Johnson was informed by a liaison from the Department of Transportation that there had been an in-air collision of two airliners over New Jersey, around Hackensack. Hundreds were likely dead. The news spread quickly, given the crash happening over a populated area. CNN and then the other networks were giving it full coverage before any federal response could be made. Debris scattered across the area, causing multiple on-ground casualties. Soon, footage surfaced - apparently the crash had been caught on a security camera which showed the explosion in the sky. Transportation Secretary Parris Glendening was scrambling for more information. The President, who was in Chicago for an event with Mayor Daley and recently confirmed District Attorney Lori Lightfoot, was made aware of the collision.

    Everything changed when Director Johnson received the update that several suspected terrorists had been detained at Logan International Airport for a different flight, American Airlines Flight 11, which had been delayed. United Airlines Flight 175 had taken off from Logan and was off course when it collided with the other plane. While the television continued to report on the “accident”, a sense of dread came over Johnson. With the President out of the city, an emergency session of the National Security Council was arranged with Vice President Feinstein in the White House situation room.

    There were more unknowns than knowns. Just last month, suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaaoui had been detained in Minnesota after causing concerns among the staff of a flight school. One of the detained men at Logan, Mohamed Atta, had been carrying a cell phone which had been called while he was detained. It was assumed that the call was made by one of the terrorists who potentially hijacked Flight 11. FBI agents were already on-site at Logan. Boxcutters and knives had been confiscated from the detained suspects. Transportation Secretary Glendening notified FAA Administrator Jane Garvey that the crash may not have been an accident. The FAA proceeded to ground all American air traffic, over 4500 planes. Canadian officials followed suit. All international flights were denied permission to land, either rerouting to Canada or Mexico, or returning to points of origin.

    The next few hours were tense. The President was rushed back to O’Hare Airport and Air Force One took off as all other flights at the airport were being grounded. Multiple fighter squadrons were scrambled on the east coast without specific direction as the threat was unknown. The situation room watched as the map of flights slowly began to empty. White House Spokesman Chris Lehane provided the first official update that the crash over Hackensack might not have been an accident. With the President being kept in the air as a precaution, Vice President Feinstein addressed the nation directly from the White House, confirming the incident was a suspected terrorist attack. Johnson confirmed there were potential suspects in custody for a second attack and Glendening explained the countrywide grounding of air traffic. Later that week it leaked that the FBI had confirmed from the detained terrorists that the intent of the hijackings was to crash into New York, targeting the World Trade Center.

    For those in the know, there was little doubt to the national security apparatus that the attacks were connected to al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Military advisors and personnel had been present in country since April of last year, embedded with the Northern Alliance which opposed the Taliban. But it was largely a defensive war, and they controlled less than 10% of the country. American forces were limited to training and intelligence gathering. When President Gore landed in Washington late that night, it was clear that simple threat containment was not sufficient. For the first time in history, NATO invoked Article V.

    gore 9-11.png

    Three days later, Congress would pass the Authorization of Military Force against Terrorists, allowing full action against al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and their supporters, with a sunset clause of 5 years. On September 20, President Gore addressed a Joint Session of Congress. His approval ratings had jumped above 80% in wake of the attacks and he was welcomed in the chamber by a long-standing ovation. Gore used the address to call on the Taliban to turn over Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda leadership. At home, he stressed the need to pass the Homeland Security Act that was still being debated by Congress. Furthermore, Gore stressed that they were at war with violent extremism, not Islam as a religion. A rash of hate attacks had broken out in the days after the attack that needed to be addressed. Republicans gave their traditional Joint Session response, but it was supportive instead of a rebuttal. Senator John McCain had been selected as the party’s spokesman, and he confirmed the Republican Party’s commitment to national unity and security.

    If that was not enough, a string of biohazard attacks terrorized Congress. Multiple envelopes containing the biological weapon anthrax had been mailed to Congressional offices and news organizations, most notably targeting Speaker Gephardt. Twice the Capitol building had been evacuated in the span of a month. Despite the timing with the hijacking, no one was taking credit for the anthrax attacks, which was considered uncommon for Islamic terrorism. New mail handling securities and procedures were swiftly implemented as the federal investigation began.

    America was shook in the days, weeks, and months after the attacks. Film releases were rescheduled. The airlines saw a massive drop in passengers. The Dow Jones plunged after being reopened and the already fragile economy continued to sputter. On October 20, full out war commenced in Afghanistan with full NATO and UN approval. The Taliban government had refused to turn over bin Laden and several other figures. President Gore once again addressed the nation. The initial shock had worn off and already people were asking “how this could happen?” Gore had been in office since 1998 and it seemed full responsibility rested with his administration for this security failure. The rally around the flag had wavered a bit, but Gore still was polling in the low 70s by the end of the year. His speech at Liberty State Park, with the Manhattan skyline and Statue of Liberty in full view, was a strong optic of strength that resonated with the country. The threat of terrorism still remained and continued to sap public confidence. Another terrorist incident was barely avoided when a man on an intercontinental flight to Miami was restrained while trying to light a bomb in his shoe.

    Reality continued though, and November saw several elections which provided a boost for the Democrats. In New Jersey, where the rally around the flag effect was strong after the crash in their airspace, Goldman Sachs CEO Jon Corzine defeated Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler for Governor. Nearby, New York City was having an election to replace outgoing Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was leaving office under a shadow of scandal. The Democratic candidate Fernando Ferrer beat billionaire Michael Bloomberg as expected, but Bloomberg’s strong showing did surprise some. Meanwhile, down in Virginia, businessman Mark Warner beat state Attorney General Mark Earley for Governor. President Gore stumped with all three candidates.

    Outside of security, President Gore aimed to help the country return to normalcy and refocus his administration, prioritizing Education Secretary Hunt’s reform push. Gore continued to use the bully pulpit to make statements on the climate and environment. Normal domestic issues demanded attention as well. Foremost among them was the economy. Enron, an energy and commodities company, declared bankruptcy in early December, the largest United States bankruptcy ever. Within weeks the Justice Department announced a criminal investigation into the matter. Quickly the news began to focus on their ties to political figures as well, especially Governor Bush who was up for reelection in 2002. The monopoly lawsuit against Microsoft seemed poised to move towards the Supreme Court. With the economy continuing to sag, Democrats in Congress looked to pass a stimulus quickly in the new year.


    The economy that had been such a boon to the previous Clinton and Gore’s administration in the 90s was finally showing signs of winding down. The “dot-com” bubble was deflating. Airlines faced bankruptcy as international anxiety kept people out of the skies. Consumer confidence declined with the country on a war footing and the constant fear of terrorism permeated the country. Unemployment peaked at 5.5%, the highest since 1996. In January, President Gore signed the long-awaited Millennium Education Reform Act. In February, he attended the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, which was widely seen as a successful event, a much-needed salve for the nation. In March, Gore would sign the Green Job Creation and Worker Assistance Act and the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. GJCWA was a combination of Republican championed business tax credits, expansion of unemployment insurance, and state and local grants for “green” infrastructure programs. These would be limited to specific programs such as mass transportation, walkable spaces, environmental upgrades for buildings, and power grid modernization. Gore got his “lockbox” for environmental spending and with Secretary Glendening’s shepherding, “smart growth” became official federal transit policy.

    The Taliban had collapsed and an interim government had been established in Afghanistan. Bin Laden, however, was still missing, but it seemed only a matter of time until he was found. Between the victory overseas and the political wins on the home front, it was a string of successes which put the White House in high spirits. It would come to a thudding halt in short order.
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    Ch. 15: 2002
  • United States v. Microsoft Corp. was a judicial win for the Gore Administration but with bad political timing. The Supreme Court upheld that Microsoft was to be divided into two companies – basically one that created software and one that created operating systems. While effectively an anti-monopoly win for regular Americans, the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the breaking apart of a successful business did not sit well with the country.

    Despite the slowing economy, the President’s approval ratings were high at the end of 2001 and spring 2002. The war in Afghanistan was going reasonably well. Kabul had fallen, but Osama bin Laden was not yet found. Multiple pieces of legislation had been big wins for the President. 2002 looked like year the Democrats may again gain seats, uncommon for a midterm. Their luck couldn’t last though. Rumors began circling with the legislative staff. Eventually, the stories broke. There were some problems Gore's ambassador nominations. The first one was Charles Kushner.


    A wealthy New York real estate mogul, Kushner had been long-time Democratic Party donor. An accepted practice, ambassadorships had been often awarded to party loyalists and campaign supporters. Kushner was picked to be Ambassador to Poland and was seen as a notable choice given his parents were Jewish Holocaust survivors. But then the news broke that Kushner had been potentially making illegal campaign donations and other financial crimes. By itself, this scandal may have just been a blip on Gore Administration. It tied into the old stories of Gore’s supposed campaign donation problems from 1996 but other than that, Kushner could just be withdrawn.

    However, there was a second, separate scandal about a different ambassadorship that gave the story larger reach. Illinois Representative Rod Blagojevich was seen as young and ambitious, even for Washington. Those closest to him knew he dreamed of occupying the Oval Office himself one day. To beef up his resume, Blagojevich had been angling heavily for foreign policy exposure. Also the child of immigrants, Blagojevich had been lobbying heavily for a high-profile appointment to somewhere in the Balkans (he didn’t really care which country) and the White House eventually picked him to lead the Croatian Embassy. Blagojevich, however, had been going around making quid pro quo agreements loudly in restaurants and on wiretap with backers for a potential 2004 Senate race. Some quick investigation immediately exposed other campaign financial irregularities as well.


    A particular thorn in the side of the administration was Senator Joe Lieberman, Chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee. A notable intraparty critic of Clinton’s infidelity, he was an “independent” minded Senator who was regularly on the conservative side of arguments. He opened hearings into the poorly named “Ambassadorgate” and began arranging testimony with a wide selection of White House and State staff. To some, it was impossible that there was not remaining corruption or bad actors left over from the Clinton era.

    The two scandals, despite having nothing to do with each other in origin other than some bad background checking, became morphed into one in the media coverage and political attacks. A lack of coherent messaging from the White House other than “oops” did nothing to help. It had been 4 years since Clinton’s resignation and the dynamics had only accelerated. The internet was quickly becoming a driving source of news coverage, fueling the fire that the 24/7 cable news channels first lit. April’s economic bounce back and first quarter growth news was overshadowed. It was a midterm election year. The Democrats were facing a rough Senate map. The House majority was slim and could disappear with a fractional slip. Some felt they needed to distance themselves to win reelection. Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota attacked Gore from the left. Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana attacked him from the right.

    Overseas, the War in Afghanistan (not against Afghanistan), started to raise some eyebrows as the casualties started reaching higher figures. Months in, with the initial blunt force attack over, what remained visible to the American public were explosions on mountains, American soldiers building houses, and the caskets coming home. It did not help that Osama bin Laden was nowhere to be found. Republican voices criticized “the strategy not the mission.” Why were tax dollars and manhours going to road and schools in Afghanistan? Why are we not focused on real threats like Iraq and Iran?

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    Senator Jesse Helms was a vocal critic on the Hill, but the strongest dissents often came from outside of elected office. Republican foreign policy experts and experienced voices like Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and John Bolton were Sunday morning news show staples. Widely shared and considered was conservative legal scholar John Yoo’s work stating military tribunals should be used to prosecute al-Qaeda and that the Geneva Conventions statutes on “enemy combatants” may not apply to terrorists. Despite the firepower being deployed, it was still easy for Republican critics to cast the Democratic Party position as weak on national security when this happened on Gore’s watch. And again, Gore had attacks from both ways. Liberals in Congress were successfully postponing new legislation on surveillance reform and stronger intelligence gathering methods. Judiciary Chairman John Conyers was a House veteran who could not be rolled over. As an original member of Nixon’s Enemies List, Conyers was extremely concerned that some of the proposed legislation would give the federal government new powers that would pose a significant threat to civil liberties. The PATRIOT Act, as it was called, was being continually debated and amended by without any forward progress.

    Some bipartisan progress still existed on the edges though. The 9/11 Commission was created by Congress to investigate what happened and why the security threat was missed. While it was being investigated, some hard-right voice like Rush Limbaugh and other AM radio personalities had no qualms in immediately blaming Gore for not stopping the threat. Online, the internet began to question “what really happened” as conspiracy theories began to be created and spread.

    The Corporate Accountability, Responsibility, and Transparency Act (CART) Act was the last bipartisan effort by Congress before the midterm elections that year. With the Enron scandal being blatantly wrong and compounded by other high profile corporate wrongdoings, even the most “pro-business” members of both parties admitted something had to be done. The Gore White House touted the law as a win ‘for the little guy’ but did little to change the narrative that had taken hold around Democratic infighting and big government shenanigans after Ambassadorgate. As November 5 approached, Democrats became more nervous about their prospects and began breaking rank. Governors and Senators tried to distinguish themselves from the President in various ways. While Gore hovered above 55% approval nationally still, this number differed from state to state and district to district.


    When the night’s contests were finally settled, Democrats lost control of both chambers of Congress as many expected. This time the conventional wisdom was right. President Gore would once again be managing a divided government. In the Senate, Republicans picked up enough to get a slim majority with 52 seats. Democrats lost South Dakota, Georgia, Louisiana, and Minnesota. Minnesota saw a potential spoiler effect as former gubernatorial and presidential candidate Jesse Ventura once again made a bid for office, which seemed to sap support from Senator Paul Wellstone. Wellstone had been trying to walk a line of independence from the White House and turned down Gore’s support but in the end came up short against State House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty.

    There was some good news for Democrats. In New Jersey, scandal plagued Robert Torricelli thought he could grit through it but dropped out of the race late in September. After a quick legal battle, he was replaced on the ballot by former Senator Bill Bradley who squeaked out a win with Gore’s support. In Arkansas, the Republicans faced their own scandal. Incumbent Tim Hutchinson had divorced his wife of twenty-nine years and remarried a staffer. While he denied any “Clinton issues”, his popularity in the state was irrevocably damaged. Mark Pryor, Arkansas Attorney General, did not need to make it a campaign issue to have a decent victory. Trent Lott was in line to become Majority Leader and in the House Dennis Hastert would claim the gavel with a 9-seat majority.

    While the mood was sour in the White House, Democrats saw their best successes in the 36 gubernatorial elections where there were massive party changes across the country. Despite some loses, Democrats still saw a net gain in gubernatorial mansions and state houses. 5 Republican gubernatorial wins in Alaska, Georgia, South Carolina, and New Hampshire were countered by 11 Democratic gains in Arizona, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

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    New York became a nationally followed race. Governor George Pataki, a generally popular Republican figure in a Democratic state, seemed untouchable as he ramped up for his third term. Democrats countered the incumbent with a recruit who instantly changed the race – John F. Kennedy, Jr. The Kennedy scion had been openly mulling running for public office, the family business, for several years. The first suggestions seemed to be the senate race in 2000 or New York City mayoral race in 2001. Kennedy had been active in the state as a freelance public figure, notably being seen as a kingmaker in the mayoral election when he unexpectedly endorsed Fernando Ferrer. Mario Cuomo’s son Senator Andrew Cuomo was married to his cousin Kerry Kennedy and a close ally in the election. Pataki, after 8 years in office, grasped for attention against the media deluge that followed the handsome son of a beloved, tragic president.

    President Gore relished seeing his home state flip back to Democratic leadership as well. But despite those wins, President Gore’s final two years would have to adapt to the new reality.
    Ch. 16: Leadership Changes
  • Republican congressional leaders were looking forward to that new reality in 2003. Deregulation and tax cuts, new social policies like partial birth abortion and gay marriage bans, and harder foreign policy line on opposing the Gore Administration’s Iraq and North Korea policies became the talk of the town. Congressional Republicans were lined up for the new Hill leadership - then Trent Lott stepped in it. At the 100th birthday for Senator Strom Thurmond, the soon-to-be Senate Majority leader gave statements praising the man’s long legacy. Thurmond’s history of racial segregation policies and opposition to civil rights were suddenly being rehashed publicly, with the Mississippi senator now involved as well.


    The south’s racial history had already been publicly debated again recently. Georgia’s outgoing Democratic Governor Roy Barnes had updated the state flag to minimize the Confederate battle flag’s appearance on it. President Al Gore, a son of the south, had supported the move and denounced Lott’s comments (which may have helped Lott a little within the party). After several few weeks of criticism, Lott stated he would not run for Majority Leader in the new session, taking the Whip position instead. Senator Mitch McConnell would replace him as Leader. In previous years, it might’ve been an inside DC story without national legs but got traction with the increasingly visible “bloggers” who continued their commentary on the internet even after newspapers had moved on. It was another example of how the rapidly changing internet culture was impacting who news was consumed and created.

    In the House, outgoing Dick Gephardt stepped down from leadership after the Democratic loses. Bill Paxon, who had been on the cusp of becoming Speaker in the 1997 move against Newt Gingrich, had declined to run again in 2002 and so Dennis Hastert grabbed the gavel. In a landslide vote on the Democratic side, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California was selected as the new Minority Leader, the first woman to hold that position.

    President: Dianne Feinstein (D)
    President pro tempore: Ted Stevens (R)

    Majority (Republican) leadership
    Majority Leader: Mitch McConnell
    Majority Whip: Trent Lott

    Minority (Democratic) leadership
    Minority Leader: Tom Daschle
    Minority Whip: Harry Reid

    House of Representatives
    Speaker: Dennis Hastert

    Majority (Republican) leadership
    Majority Leader: Tom DeLay
    Majority Whip: J.C. Watts

    Minority (Democratic) leadership
    Minority Leader: Nancy Pelosi
    Minority Whip: Steny Hoyer

    Despite the change in party, there was still some hope for compromise across the aisle. There was no need to counter Gore directly necessarily as he was term limited. Instead, the goal was to provide America an alternative for what could happen if they elected a Republican President in 2004. Patient’s rights and health care reform was a priority to some Republicans like Bill Frist. Trent Lott had been working on passenger rail improvements. The New Democrats and the Gore White House had been wanting to expand free trade agreements, something outgoing Speaker Gephardt had been holding up.


    The first test of cooperation between Congress and the White House came in the form of Senate appointee hearings. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers announced his resignation in December. 3 years into the job, the bear economy had flattened out without a recovery yet. Maybe it was bad timing more than anything, but his tenure was tied to this poor performance. Erskine Bowles’s tenure at the Office of Management and Budget had won him allies on both sides of the aisle. Seen as level-headed and debt adverse, Bowles had a strong working relationship with Republicans on the hill, most importantly Treasury Chairman Chuck Grassley. The War in Afghanistan had blown a hole in the budget and 2002 saw the first deficit of the Gore Administration. Hill Republicans were very serious about this and Bowles shared that concern. His approval hearings for Treasury went smoothly. Jack Lew, his deputy at the OMB, was promoted to backfill him.

    Shortly after, on New Year’s Day, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet announced his resignation for personal issues. Tenet had grown increasingly frustrated in his working relationship with the White House. Critically on Iraq, Tenet had adapted a more hawkish stance than National Security Advisor Leon Feurth who considered the situation contained. UN Monitoring, under former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Hans Blix, continued to show no evidence of robust weapons programs, despite “cat and mouse games” by Saddam and his regime. The intelligence and security reorganizations left Tenet also somewhat sidelined by Homeland Security Director Ashton Carter too.


    For Tenet’s replacement, Deputy Director Jami Miscik was nominated. The first woman to be considered for the role, she had been preparing the President’s daily brief and was a former executive assistant of Tenet’s. This promotion had ruffled the feathers of some in the know for two reasons – the appearance that she was a diversity hire as a woman with political connections to the White House and her opposition to a more confrontational stance with Iraq. It was attacked as an ‘affirmative action’ higher, like Widnall at Defense. While the hearings for her appointment were grueling, the Senate committee admitted she proved well under their questioning and that the President needed his preferred staff while the country was at war. Her position against “enhanced interrogation”, which had been debated in the new reality of combating terrorism, won over Senator John McCain as a strong ally. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts wouldn’t block her for partisanship alone.
    Ch. 17: 2004 election preamble and foreign policy
  • As was basically tradition, immediately after the 2002 midterm elections were settled, discussions of the 2004 presidential race began. With President Gore unable to run, pressure and speculation swirled around Vice President Dianne Feinstein. She would be 71 on Election Day in 2004, but as sitting Vice President she could not be written off and was not showing her cards publicly. The possibility of her jumping in meant that other Democratic contenders thought about announcing earlier to establish their names. Howard Dean, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo, John Kerry, Dick Gephardt, Carol Moseley Braun, Bob Graham, Bill Bradley, Dennis Kucinich, Evan Bayh, Kathleen Townsend, and Al Sharpton were all exploring the possibility or names being suggested in the media. In-laws Townsend (née Kennedy) and Cuomo potentially running against each other added some family drama to the campaign.


    While the potential Democratic field was one of the largest in recent memory, it still did not compare to the size of the Republican field. Out of the White House since 1992, the GOP was more than eager to take it back. It seemed possible and even likely for up to 20 credible candidates to be in the race. The first attention was paid to those familiar from 2000. Elizabeth Dole, despite the conjecture, was declining a second run at the highest office. But John McCain, Newt Gingrich, and John Kasich all seemed interested in another try. This was a particularly a tricky choice for McCain as he would have to decide between the Presidential race or the Senate race, if he was the nominee.

    Along with the 2000 veterans, former Texas Governor George Bush was on the edge as well. After declining to run for a third term, the exploding Enron scandal was tainting his potential 2004 presidential hopes. When Dole lost to Gore in 2000, Karl Rove’s “wait for 04” strategy seemed like a savvy move by Bush. But since then his numbers had plummeted back home and his national support seemed anemic. But that was okay because his brother Florida Governor Jeb Bush was gearing up for a run. Expanding the potential candidate count were Christine Todd Whitman, John Ensign, Norm Coleman, Herman Cain, John Engler, Tom Ridge, John Rowland, Bill Owens, George Allen, Mike Huckabee, Fred Thompson, Rick Santorum, Helen Chenoweth-Hage, Duncan Hunter, Sam Brownback, Jim Gilmore, and Tommy Thompson. Given the size of both fields, funding would be an early decider of which campaigns could sustain the long haul.


    2003 started with tragedy when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke up in the atmosphere when attempting reentry. President Gore called for a comprehensive review of the accident and plan for the retirement and replacement of the Space Shuttle program. Meanwhile, the Congress and White House were balancing conflict and compromise. Lingering free trade deals the White House had been pushing saw more action with a Republican congress. Favored nation trade status was being reviewed for China, a plan which had been shelved for years. After two previous vetoes, a mix of tax cuts and credits were signed by Gore in May, which was promised as a relief to the American people who were still wallowing in a mediocre economy – unemployment seemed stuck at 5.5%. The passage of the PATRIOT Act, albeit it a version many security experts called a “gutting by amendments”, was passed. Gore also vetoed a Republican driven Bankruptcy Reform Act, which experts and advocates said would make it more difficult for people to escape crippling debt.

    While high profile appointments like Miscik and Bowles moved at the regular speed of Senate business, other appointments, most notably Gore’s appointees for ambassador and federal bench began to slow down. Majority Leader McConnell was a vocal proponent for the “independence of the Senate.” Tactically, Senate Republicans had been frustrated with the speed of Gore’s appointments for the last two years. The idea of filibustering Gore’s judicial appointments had been floated more than once. But the Republicans were patient and did not go “nuclear” before 2003. Now in the majority, however, Republican parliamentarian procedures were used to their full force to slow down every appointment that would not get front page news.

    While those appointments stalled, Congressional hearings were held on the Gore ambassador process and the access afforded to Democratic campaign donors. Voices on the Hill also continued to be more vocal about the War in Afghanistan, especially regarding an apparent lack of properly armored vehicles and other equipment shortages. Causalities had been slowly rising even after the initial massive invasion. A new scourge of “improvised explosive devices” had been plaguing convoys. Exacerbating the problem was the fact that nominal ally Pakistan and continual adversary Iran were supporting proxy forces in Afghanistan. While Republicans like George Allen and John McCain were calling for a more confrontational stance towards Iran, trying to confront Pakistan while being dependent on their territory for support was becoming a diplomatic quagmire.


    Without a firm idea of what victory looked like in Afghanistan, the President Al Gore and the Democratic Party trumpeted the signature of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the North Korean nuclear deal. Completing the work first started under the Clinton Administration, the deal was also signed by China, Russia, France, the UK, North Korea, South Korea, and Japan. The deal capped enrichment amounts and functionality North Korea could develop for 15 years and also lifted targeted sanctions. Republicans, however, immediately criticized the agreement. In a show of party unity, up and down the agreement was called “appeasement” and was opposed by all of their serious 2004 candidates. As much as domestic polling matters for international agreements, a large majority of Americans approved of the deal, but this failed to sway Republican leaders.
    Ch. 17: 2003 and Culture
  • The Gore Administration was frustrated by the year. High profile unforced errors had been getting more coverage than their successes. Afghanistan, Ambassadorgate, and a rolling cycle of other small stories seemed to dominate coverage. The economy was rebounding after the stimulus packages passed over the past two years. The stock market had recovered. Investor confidence had improved some after the CART Act. Executive action by the Environmental Protection Agency, Transportation Department, and Housing and Urban Development were slowly transforming the way America lived. But there was burnout in the face of new opposition. It is often said that the second hardest job in Washington after the President is White House Chief of Staff. Ron Klain was feeling that pressure and ready to move on. Perhaps Gore’s closest advisor, other than Tipper, it was a hard but necessary. Sylvia Matthews was picked as the first female Chief of Staff in history. Matthews had served in the Clinton and Gore White Houses in multiple roles including Deputy Chief of Staff, Deputy OMB Director, and most recently as Cabinet Secretary. Matthews was notorious to some Republicans for her role during the Watergate scandal, as part of her testimony included searching Vince Foster’s garbage after his death.


    “American anxiety” was slowly making its way through the discourse and cultural zeitgeist. Compared to the previous decade, by the end of 2003 something certainly felt different in the country. The Millennium bombings and 9/11 attack that sparked the on-going War in Afghanistan felt hand-in-hand with “the slump”. Perhaps it had started with Clinton’s resignation, but there had been a general dissatisfaction with most of American life. In roughly equal numbers, the populace had been split in thirds according to polling – a third saying the country was changing too quickly, a third saying it was not changing fast enough, and the final third either indifferent or okay with things as they were. There had been such hope prior to the dawn of the new millennium that was sensed, but on the other side of the celebrations people were realizing most everything was just about the same.

    This “unease” was noticed in the culture and reflected in three trilogies that dominated the box office during the Gore years. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was coming to an end and captured the sense that forces beyond what mere individuals could handle were at play. The Matrix made many think about how maybe the world was not as it appeared. The Star Wars prequals showed how American expectations were too high and could not possibly be met. Children, perhaps needing an escape from the anxiety of their elders, turned to a fantasy world in Harry Potter in droves. Adults, seeking a similar escape, turned to an explosion of reality television, which was often anything but.

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    The two parties, seemingly unsure or unable to deal with their real economic and military concerns, continued in the “culture wars” as well, but Clinton’s resignation had opened a separate front. Abortion, same-sex marriage, flag burning, and the usual issues were still being made national issues as “family values.” Conservatives could point to Clinton as the failure of liberal morals. The suspension of Alabama Justice Roy Moore, who refused to remove a display of the Ten Commandments from the courthouse, was seen as just one example of how Christian values were being attacked.

    After Clinton’s resignation and Dole’s loss, a national soul-searching had begun among women, liberal women in particular. Feminists had been a Clinton booster and the “soccer moms” had backed him in 1996. There had been questions about his behavior since 1991 but they had largely been written off by liberals through perhaps just straight partisan backing. Clinton had been part of the backlash from the Anita Hill scandal and the “Year of the Women” in 1992. After 5 years of meditation on Lewinsky, Clinton, sex, and the workplace, a different strain of thought had been bubbling to the surface, in particular by Generation X.

    Generation X, now roughly in their twenties and early thirties had entered the workforce. This was a “post-feminist” generation, where women had higher rates of participation in education and employment but did not see the direction confrontation of “feminist issues” that defined earlier waves of women voices. They were socially more liberal than the Baby Boomers, but of smaller numbers and less political participation. “Grrrl power” was seen as rejection of Second Wave feminism, embracing sexuality and femininity as an asset. More technologically adapt than previous generations, a lot of the discussion by Generation X was on the internet. But it was hard to square this pro-sex attitude with Clinton’s treatment of Lewinsky, which was being reinterpreted as not just an affair or scandal, but as possibly sexual harassment in the workplace. Anita Hill was not a debate Generation X had much say in and was being revisited by this new cohort, with Clinton’s own issues being part of the same discussion. As Generation X was growing older and becoming more prominent in media and journalism, these conversations about harassment would become more visible in society.

    Commentary about the Clinton affair (affairs?) had been on-going but came back up in 2003 as Bill and Hillary Clinton began their “apology and listening tour.” He had begun making income on the speaker circuit, often internationally, while she took up more private legal services in New York. After the lawsuits and being stuck in the political wilderness for several years, the two (both individually and as a couple) became more visible politically in 2003 as the Democratic Party began thinking about who would next lead their party, especially following the 2002 midterm defeats.

    Same-sex marriage would be thrust into the political debate as another cultural fault line. Republicans, having lost three presidential elections in a row, still showed their strength through Congress and state houses. President Gore, who had supported the Defense of Marriage Act, was now calling for civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, arguing that government represented partnerships should be separated from the sanctity of marriage. It certainly did not help the delicate politics that his wife Tipper and daughter Karenna were visible advocates on the matter. Gay marriage was only supported by 25-30% of the country. Republicans and conservative Democrats had backed a potential Federal Marriage Amendment to define marriage as between a man and woman. Outside of conservative state actions, the two sides really did not have much movement either way in legislative or executive efforts outside of speech and debate.


    The status quo was blown apart however by Lawrence v. Texas, when the Supreme Court invalidated multiple sodomy laws, and by the Massachusetts State Supreme Court in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, which ruled in November 2003 that the state constitution required equal treatment under the law, that effectively civil unions were separate and unequal. Massachusetts Governor Shannon O'Brien welcomed the decision as Republicans nationally railed against “unelected, activist judges”. While the national amendment stalled, Alaska, Nebraska, Hawaii, and Nevada had passed state constitutional bans on same sex marriage. But in the wake of Goodridge, 11 states would end up with bans on the ballot in 2004. Social conservatives hoped to play to their base and boost turnout for these votes. There was also a hope that this would appeal to Hispanics (majority being Catholic), who sat out or avoided the Republican ticket in 2000 but were otherwise seen as natural allies on social issues.

    While this was all good in theory, there were going to be hiccups for the Republican “family values” agenda.