Published November 22, 2002
NEW YORK – House lawmakers put the final touches on last-minute legislation before departing Washington Friday and calling the 107th Congress adjourned. But as lawmakers scattered to the winds, the headlines they left behind show that the 107th was more than just a legislative term.
Despite all the charges of gridlock, the scorecard shows that lawmakers did get a number of bills completed, including tax relief, election reform, campaign finance reform, a farm bill, trade promotion authority, education accountability, aviation security, an airline bailout, anti-terrorism legislation, terrorism insurance, a resolution on Iraq, and homeland security.
Left undone were bills on energy, faith-based services, bankruptcy reform, prescription drugs and a patients' bill of rights.
"Every time they talk, they talk gridlock," said Stephen Hess, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. But, he said of the legislative year, "It was strangely productive."
"If you add up the legislation all together, I think you get a fairly substantial record," Hess said.
Despite the legislative achievements of the past Congress, lots of memorable events on Capitol Hill didn't involve legislation at all.
"It can only be compared to other Congresses, not to Utopia," Hess said.
Among the more notable events this term was the derailment of Rep. Gary Condit's political career after 24-year-old Washington intern Chandra Levy disappeared in May 2001.
Police revealed in July 2001 that Condit, D-Calif., admitted to having an affair with Levy, a constituent from Modesto, formerly known as "Condit Country." But officials were quick to point out that Condit was not officially a suspect in her disappearance.
Nonetheless, California voters did not like the stink from the whole ordeal and voted Condit out of office in the Democratic primary in March 2002, the first of eight incumbents to be defeated in primary races. Condit's former protege, Dennis Cardoza, a California assemblyman, won the November election to replace him.
Levy's body was found in a Washington, D.C. park in May 2002.
In May 2001, Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont stunned the nation and his colleagues when he announced he was bolting the GOP to become an independent who voted with Democrats. His move the next month shifted the balance of power in the Senate, which was teetering at a 50-50 Republican edge, counting the tie-breaking vote of GOP to a Democratic majority.
Then came Sept. 11.
For a time, lawmakers forgot which side of the aisle they sat on and came together in a rare show of unity and patriotism. They gathered on the steps of the Capitol, bearing Old Glory and carrying lit candles to sing the national anthem.
Observers say everything that happened after Sept. 11 is what voters will most remember about the 107th Congress.
"I think Gary Condit is a footnote," said Mara Liasson, national political correspondent for National Public Radio. "I think it's going to be most remembered for bills that passed regarding terrorism, a Department of Homeland Security in the lame duck, terrorism insurance."
The aftermath of Sept. 11 included the ouster of members from their offices when anthrax-laden letters were sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and various other congressional offices.
Several lawmakers were forced to camp out in temporary offices while workers in hazmat suits decontaminated various closed buildings. Hart Senate Office Building remained shut for three months.
For a time, the scare changed the way Congress operated, with the pols urging constituents to forget the U.S. post and use e-mail instead. The high-tech era of Congress was also waved in as lawmakers began communicating via BlackBerry wireless e-mail devices.
Another show of unity came when a federal appeals court in California ruled in June 2002 that the phrase "under God," in the Pledge of Allegiance amounted to a government endorsement of religion, a violation of the Constitution.
Congress immediately gathered on the Capitol steps to recite the pledge. The next day, the Senate showed up for a morning prayer to affirm that the United States is "one nation under God." Congress later sent a bill to the president reinforcing support for "under God" in the pledge, and for "In God We Trust" as the national motto.
In July of this year, Rep. Jim Traficant of Ohio, the colorful nine-term congressman known for his wild hair -- later discovered to be a wig -- retro clothes and notorious antics on the House floor, became only the second member since the Civil War to be expelled by his colleagues.
In April, Traficant was convicted on 10 counts of taking bribes and racketeering. He was sentenced to eight years in a federal prison. The ethics committee recommended expulsion and the House voted 420-1 to toss Traficant out. Only the disgraced Condit voted to keep him.
Traficant later ran a losing campaign for re-election from his Pennsylvania jail cell.
Democrats also made history not just by taking back the Senate in the middle of the term, but by electing a woman to lead the party in the House.
On Oct. 10, 2001, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California was elected by her colleagues as the first female House Democratic Whip, the second-in-command for Democrats. Thirteen months later, Pelosi made history again becoming the first woman to lead the Democratic Party in the House, replacing Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri.
"It is a staggering honor," Pelosi said. "There is no question about it."
As Congress departs, some of its more noted lawmakers are sure to remain in the spotlight as they begin their new careers.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, the privacy advocate and main author of the Republican revolution's 1994 Contract With America, is considering a job at the American Civil Liberties Union. The Texas Republican, who made sure in the Homeland Security bill he authored to dispose of Operation TIPS, the domestic citizen spy program, said that as an old idealist, he would be a good match with the ACLU.
Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., an advocate of government accountability and would-be chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, will begin his stint as the new district attorney on NBC's popular series Law and Order. A character actor before entering the Senate, Thompson has appeared in numerous films, including The Hunt for Red October, In the Line of Fire and Die Hard II.