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Congress’ Top Partisan Fighters

An anonymous source quoted in an article published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer just after Metzenbaum announced his retirement said: “Howard was the ultimate gadfly; his role won’t change. He is the liberal porcupine, just as Jesse Helms is the conservative porcupine. Neither one could get any legislation adopted in its original form, but they block appropriations, they can use the negative power of a single senator effectively.”

Metzenbaum served on the Judiciary Committee and was one of the Senate’s staunchest supporters of gun control, including becoming the chamber’s point man on the Brady bill. He also carved out a niche during the early 1990s as the Senate’s leading critic of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

Rep. Bob Walker (R-Pa.),
Served 1977-1997

Elected in 1977, Walker served some 20 years in the House. He never held a leadership position, having lost a bid for Majority Whip in 1994 to DeLay.

Walker is probably best known for his relationship with Gingrich, and like him, was credited with a big assist in the 1994 House takeover. Walker spearheaded Gingrich’s 1989 campaign for Majority Whip, a crucial launching pad for the Georgia Republican, and remained Gingrich’s top confidante and ally throughout his tenure in Congress.

Walker won kudos for his tact and strong knowledge of House rules and procedures. It was he, sources said, who, in the late 1980s spearheaded the GOP minority’s offensive against the Democrats. Using special orders and one-minute speeches, Walker led the daily efforts on the floor that attacked the Democrats for ethical misgivings and mishandlings of the House.

As one veteran Congressional aide said: “Walker was very shrewd. He was a very good inside player and a good political strategist.”

Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Calif.),
Served 1979-1989, Majority Whip, 1987-1989

In eight years, Coelho climbed from freshman to Majority Whip, the Democrats’ third-ranking post at the time. Before becoming Whip, Coelho served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 1981-1986.

It was perhaps his work on the campaign committee that gained him his notoriety as one of Congress’ most partisan Members. Coelho was known for bullying lobbyists and political action committees into making donations, reminding them that he expected them to give to the then-majority Democrats as well as Republicans, even if the GOP was closer to their views ideologically.

The California Democrat, sources said, “muscled the business community” into giving to the party — and did it successfully. In 1982, the Democrats picked up 26 seats. Even though the party lost seats two years later, Coelho could have done much worse, considering President Ronald Reagan’s landslide re-election victory that November.

Coelho was also considered one of the right- hand men to then-Speaker O’Neill. He was viewed as a leading party strategist and an aggressive advocate for O’Neill’s agenda. But his tenure came to an abrupt end in 1989, when he resigned amid questions over his ties to a junk-bond investment.

“Like Tip O’Neill and Jim Wright, he is little interested in bipartisan efforts on most issues,” the 1988 Almanac of American Politics concluded shortly after Coelho became Whip. “As whip he is likely to be aggressive and combative, determined to beat Republicans on big issues and small, in the long term and the short.”

Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.),
Served 1979-1998,
Speaker, 1995-1998

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