Howard Fineman

Stories by Howard Fineman

  • Reality Bites

    As a 31-year-old freshman, Rep. Jim Nussle invented a radical way to highlight the House bank scandal: he delivered a floor speech wearing a brown paper bag over his head. A hit on C-Span, he caught the eye of Newt. Three years later the Iowa Republican is back -- in full view -- but he's become a decorous student of tradition. As chief of Speaker-to-be Gingrich's transition team, he met last week with the clerk of the House. In a hushed office, surrounded by tall windows and portraits of deceased clerks, Nussle listened earnestly as Don-ald K. Anderson expounded on customs that date to the Continental Congress. ""He's a respectful young man,'' concluded Anderson. ...
  • Revenge Of The Right

    NEWT GINGRICH WAS PREPARING FOR THE LONG HAUL. That's what revolutionaries do, once they've stormed up the marble stairs and occupied the palace. Three days after the Republican right shook the nation, if not the world, their theoretician-in-chief was back in the Capitol. Surrounded by books and models of dinosaurs (he'd once wanted to be a paleontologist), gazing contentedly at the panorama of monuments on the Mall, Newt was examining every detail. No item was too personal, no goal to sweeping. To get in shape, he decreed, his daily schedule henceforth had to be built around 90 minutes of exercise. "No exceptions," he barked. When an aide offered a bagel with cream cheese, he waved it away contemptuously. "Just plain," he ordered. ...
  • Now, The Volvo Republicans

    In the ballrooms of adjacent hotels on 53d Street in Manhattan last week, it was easy to spot the stars. At the Sheraton, where President Clinton helped Gov. Mario Cuomo raise $2.5 million, the cameras clustered around Madonna's dinner table. At the Hilton, where Republicans raised $2 million for Cuo-mo's challenger, George Pataki, the woman in lights was Christine Todd Whitman, the tax-cutting governor of New Jersey. ...
  • Talk Tough And Carry A Nightstick

    THIS WAS PHOTO-OP Heaven: a bright morning on the South Lawn, a marine band blaring Sousa from the White House balcony, an audience of 300 police officers, gold badges gleaming. Framed by fluttering American flags, President Clinton announced last week the hurried disbursement of $200 million-the first cash from the new crime law -to put some 2,800 more cops on the beat. "This is an enormous step forward in a national partnership to help people fight crime," he said, then climbed off the stage to mingle. An hour later he was still pumping hands and slapping backs. ...
  • The Clean-Slate Club

    WHEN DR. BILL FRIST CALLED A press conference in Nashville last week, reporters from across Tennessee showed up, eager to hear specifics from the 42-year-old surgeon and Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. Fat chance. Boyish but steely, Frist stuck to his crime script: more death-penalty provisions, more fixed sentencing, more prisons. He attacked his Democratic opponent, Sen. Jim Sasser, for having backed a judge who now opposes the death penalty. But when reporters pressed Frist to discuss details of the new federal crime law, his reply was, Don't know, don't need to know, don't even want to know. "I'm a heart-and-lung-transplant surgeon," he declared, at once put-upon, contrite and proud. "I'm a private citizen running for the United States Senate." ...
  • Slouching Toward Defeat?

    The democratic party as we know it, and may never see it again, gathered last week for supper at a most appropriate place: the Virginia estate of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. In a vast tent pitched in the crisp night, the insiders -- Bill and Hillary Clinton, senators and cabinet members, movie stars and lobbyists--paid homage to (and raised $750,000 for) the symbol of their party's turbulent past. Kennedy, said Clinton, will win again in Massachusetts because "he believes in things that are forever young." ...
  • Marion Barry's Revival Act

    It was the afternoon following Election Day, and Marion Barry Jr. was dressed for work: kente-trimmed suit, broad smile, defiant attitude. Two years after doing time for cocaine possession, he had just won the Democratic primary for mayor of Washington -- all but ensuring he'd win a fourth term in November as chief executive of the overwhelmingly Democratic (and 70 percent black) city. And what, reporters asked Barry, could he say to white voters -- only a smattering of whom had voted for him? "Well, get over whatever personal hang-ups you've got," said Barry. "Get over it." ...
  • Spin Doctors In Love

    James Carville and Mary Matalin are in the kitchen, God help them. "Look at this," says James, poking a spoon into a pot. "There's nothing better in the world than perfectly cooked fluffy rice!" Mary, distributing dishes, rolls her eyes heavenward. "And there's nothing worse," she deadpans, "than a man who bores people to death talking about how he's a great cook." ...
  • Hanging On--Just Barely

    It was November 1970 and Bill Clinton was in a bind. He had cut his classes at Yale Law School so that he could work on the antiwar Senate campaign of Joe Duffy. Now Election Day was over (Duffy had lost) and half the semester was gone. Clinton searched the quad for an approachable savior. He found one in Nancy Bekavac, a brilliant Swarthmore graduate. She was against the war, too, but she always went to class -- and, he'd heard, she took great notes. He introduced himself with a sheepish smile. His budding legal career was in jeopardy. He'd bought all the textbooks, he explained. It was just that he hadn't had time to, well, read them. Could she lend him her notes? Amused by his chutzpah, won over by his charm and moved by his predicament, she said yes. And guess what? "He did better in the course than I did," Bekavac recalls. ...
  • Some Hard Right Turns For The Gop

    You could hear tires screeching on the pavement last week as Bob Dole swerved into a political U-turn. On CBS's "Face the Nation," he first refused to endorse Oliver North, whom Virginia Republicans had chosen as their nominee for the Senate. Instead, Dole said, he would meet with Republican Marshall Coleman, who may run as an "independent" this fall. Soon Dole was having second thoughts-and apoplectic advisers were sending him urgent messages to change course. By the next day, Dole said he would meet with North, too. The day after that he said he would endorse North. The day after that he brought Ollie into his Senate office, promised to campaign hard for him-and wrote him a $5,000 check. ...
  • The Virtuecrats

    With the fraying of America's moral fabric now a national obsession, the craving for "virtue' is creating a new kind of politics and a new class of leaders. Who's pitching it -- and can anyone put us back on track? ...
  • Ollie's New Enemy

    RONALD REAGAN MADE OLIVER NORTH what he is today-an anti-communist martyr with enormous fund-raising power, an admitted liar with an overturned criminal conviction and a Republican politician who hopes to become the next U.S. senator from Virginia. But last week the Gipper himself was enlisted in the effort to unplug his creation. Word came down from Reagan's office in a skyscraper on the Avenue of the Stars in Los Angeles. He would violate his "11th commandment"-thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican-and speak ill of Ollie. ...
  • Hillary's Trouble

    The First Lady can no longer distance herself from Whitewater. She's at the center of the political and business deals being examined by the special counsel.
  • Health Care's War Of Words

    THE TRULY CONFUSING DAYS BEGAN with Pat Moynihan. the Senate's Democratic curmudgeon, declaring there was no health-care crisis. Bob Dole, the GOP Senate leader, eagerly agreed, Republicans celebrated the revelation and proclaimed Bill Clinton's health-care bill dead. But Moynihan backtracked: there was a health-insurance crisis. And some Republicans had second thoughts. Wouldn't they seem out of touch if Americans thought there was a crisis? So Dole zigzagged: Yes. there were serious problems. And he'd cooperate ... ...
  • Big Times In Little Rock

    THE WILD SIDE OF THE '80s reached its zenith in different ways, and at different times, across America. In Arkansas, the place was Little Rock and the year was 1985. It was Bill and Hillary Clinton's town--and the scene of events at the heart of what has come to be known as Whitewater. A new-money crowd, flush with profits from municipal-bond sales and small-town banking empires, was blackballed by the staid Little Rock Club, but they gathered for champagne dinners at Jacques and Suzanne's, their own French restaurant on the top floor of a downtown bank building. Meanwhile, the workaday bond salesmen who manned the boilerroom phone banks--the infamous "bond daddies"--whiled away their spare time at a fern bar called Busters, where they paid with $100 bills. One waiter was so impressed that he asked for work and was making "cold calls" the next day. ...
  • Troubled Waters

    BILL CLINTON'S AIDES ARE Accustomed to his angry "morning vents." But last Tuesday he was Vesuvius. A New York Times editorial said that the Justice Department's investigation into the tangle of Clinton business deals known as "Whitewater" wasn't credible. The paper demanded the appointment of a special prosecutor and accused the president of failing to seek "open government and impartial justice." Slamming his fist on the JFK desk in the Oval Office, the president declared that he had never been a punching bag--and wouldn't be one now. ...
  • An Older, Grimmer Jesse

    IT'S NOT THAT JESSE JACKSON IS WEARY, though his hair is tinged with gray, and, at 52, he has the settled air of the dad whose youngest child will soon be off to college. Nor is he burdened by regret--though the "office" he now holds, shadow U.S. senator for the District of Columbia, mocks his electrifying campaigns for the White House in the '80s. It's just that, for a man who retailed the word "hope" for so many years, Jackson is surprisingly subdued these days. Friends say he is distressed, even dejected, about the prospects of African-Americans, about his power to reach them and about the message he finds himself having to deliver to them. "This is a sad time, a disturbing time for him," says Franklin Watkins, a longtime aide. ...
  • A Round Of 'Idiotic Game Playing'

    POLITICAL CONSULTANTS used to merit only Washington's prosaic version of star treatment: good tables at lunch, long quotes in "The Hotline," air time on talk shows. But suddenly, hired guns are reaching higher, more treacherous zones of notoriety. ...
  • Big Mouth, Big Problem

    REPORTERS KNOW THAT ED ROLLINS IS a treasure: an eager-to-please political operative who would rather dish than spin. Even so, no one was expecting him to make news when he showed up last week at a breakfast meeting with journalists. Yes, he had managed the winning Republican campaign for governor of New Jersey, a much-crowed-over GOP victory. But what more was there to say about how Christine Todd Whitman had beaten Gov. Jim Florio? ...
  • Big Brawl

    IT HAD BEEN A BAD week. Last Thursday Bill Clinton and Al Gore sat in the Oval Office, surveying the damage. Election Day had been a wipeout: highprofile candidates in New York and New Jersey had lost, despite the president's personal campaigning. Pundits were foretelling doom for Democrats, incumbents of any stripe--and the administration's legislative agenda. NAFTA, the trade treaty that has become a major test of his presidency, was coming up for a vote in Congress on Nov. 17, and the numbers were bad. The president wasn't winning over many lawmakers with pork barrel. and the unions were clobbering NAFTA with TV ads. How, Clinton and Gore wondered, do they sell NAFTA? ...
  • God And The Grass Roots

    IN A PREFAB ANNEX OF THE Fellowship Bible Church, near the chicken coops and bungalows in the Ozarks of northwest Arkansas, a young man named Ralph Reed is preaching the gospel--of politics. As director of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, Reed has come to Rogers, Ark., to instruct evangelical Christians in the mysteries of winning elections. About 80 adults, shiny new manuals in their laps, listen respectfully as he tells a parable of two local boys who made good. ...
  • Dubious Commerce

    CHRISTMAS 1992 WAS A HEADY TIME FOR Ron Brown. As chairman of the Democratic Party, he'd helped to engineer Bill Clinton's victory. Now the president-elect had nominated him to be secretary of commerce. But amid the rounds of holiday parties and courtesy calls, Brown took time off to drop by a Washington town house occupied by a woman who describes herself as a "close personal friend." There Brown met with a Florida-based Vietnamese businessman named Nguyen Van Hao. A confidant of the prime minister of Vietnam, Hao wanted Brown's help in easing the American ban against trade with his country. ...
  • Another Taxing Dilemma

    While Bill Clinton is vacationing, his wonks are removing pizza boxes, reformatting disc drives, installing new phone lines. They're redoing the White House's "war room," the PR nerve center of the budget battle. This week the suite becomes the command center for the administration's most ambitious crusade: health-care reform. Briefing books on how to sell reform are being distributed. Spin doctors are on call, led by Ira Magaziner, reform guru and friend of Bill and Hillary's. ...
  • Whew!

    The Budget: In the frenzied final hours, Clinton's plan squeaked through. But his troubles with Congress--and the country--are hardly over. ...
  • The Sing-Along Presidency

    When Sen. David Boren of Oklahoma sat down in the wing-backed chair across from President Clinton in the Oval Office one morning last week, he expected tough talk, maybe even a scolding. After all, Boren had declared his intention to vote against his own party's deficit plan. A single extra nay vote in the Senate could kill it--and humiliate the president. ...
  • The Mystery Of The White House Suicide

    In the airy greenery of The Garden Terrace Restaurant of The Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown, two attractive middle-aged women, old friends, were having coffee. The two were wives of powerful men. Donna McLarty's husband, Mack, was White House chief of staff. Lisa Foster's husband, Vincent, was deputy White House counsel. Talking, as they often did, about surviving the rigors of Washington, Lisa Foster confided that she was worried about her husband. A corporate lawyer from little Rock, Ark., Vince Foster was having trouble handling the pressure. He couldn't sleep, and he was losing weight. He seemed down. He couldn't let go. ...
  • 'Malcolms' And Dealmakers

    It's easy now to mark the date when the Black Caucus found its voice-and Bill Clinton started worrying about it. It was June 3, when he abruptly decided not to nominate a black professor named Lani Guinier to a Justice Department post. Dissed by a new president the caucus thought it could trust, it reacted with an angry solidarity-even if many of its members privately disagreed with Guinier's race-obsessed views. "We're not combative," said caucus chairman Kweisi Mfume of Maryland, "but we're not going to roll over." ...
  • Ross Perot's New Army

    Ross Perot gets a special pleasure out of baiting Bill Clinton. For the past few weeks, his mockery has been ringing across the airwaves. He plopped into a barber's chair to make fun of Clinton's infamous $200 haircut. He deadpanned that the travel-office scandal shows Clinton can only do things "the Arkansas way." Perot derisively told David Frost that Clinton isn't qualified for any job more senior than a "middle-management position" at a "medium-sized company." ...
  • The Players Come To Washington

    Here's today's "Hollywood on the Potomac" quiz. Guess who attended all of these recent Washington events: a Senate hearing on gays in the military, the White House correspondents' dinner, a one-on-one supper with Janet Reno, the Democratic Congressional Dinner, a Georgetown dinner party with three senators. A free tour of the C-Span studios if you correctly picked ... Barbra Streisand, First Kibitzer of the Clinton administration. ...
  • The 'Soul' And Sell Of National Service

    No Kennedy administration program captured the era's spirit of idealism like the Peace Corps. Bill Clinton was an impressionable Hot Springs, Ark., teenager when the corps was in its heyday, dispatching thousands of young American volunteers overseas to work in developing nations. More than 30 years later, Clinton is trying to launch his own inspirational "signature" program-a plan that offers college scholarship money in exchange for one or two years' work in a public-service job. But converting his dream to policy won't be easy. ...