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Copyright 1999 The National Journal, Inc.  
The National Journal

October 16, 1999

SECTION: CONGRESS; Pg. 2984; Vol. 31, No. 42

LENGTH: 938 words

HEADLINE: Follow the Leader? Forget It

BYLINE: Kirk Victor


Freshman Sens. Fitzgerald and Edwards are unafraid to go their
own way


     A year ago, two little-known figures--a wealthy North
Carolina trial lawyer with no political experience and an even-
wealthier Illinois state legislator--were on the brink of quite
an accomplishment: capturing U.S. Senate seats by defeating
incumbents. Only one other Senate candidate achieved that rare
feat in November 1998.

     In the period since Democrat John Edwards knocked off
Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R-N.C., and Republican Peter G. Fitzgerald
toppled Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill., these freshman Senators
have made a surprisingly strong first impression in Washington.
They are poised to ultimately--or perhaps sooner than
ultimately--become forces to contend with in the insular, clubby
world of the Senate.      Take Fitzgerald, who at 38, is the Senate's youngest
member and the scion of a banking fortune. During last fall's
campaign, Democrats spent millions portraying him as a right-wing
extremist, a fierce ally of the gun lobby, and a zealot on social
issues. But Fitzgerald has blown such cartoonish
characterizations to smithereens--and in the process, has
provoked plenty of muttering from his GOP colleagues about his
independent streak.

     On gun control, Fitzgerald sided with Democrats to
support background checks on purchasers at gun shows. ''I support
reasonable limitations that would keep guns out of the hands of
criminals, and I put that bill in that category,'' he said of a
vote that wound up leading to a 50-50 split and gave Vice
President Al Gore the opportunity to cast the tiebreaker.

     Fitzgerald also parted company with fellow Republicans on
managed care reform. He joined one other Republican Senator,
moderate John H. Chafee of Rhode Island, to support broader
patients' rights. Responding to a GOP constituent who, during a
recent breakfast meeting, questioned the need to allow lawsuits
against health maintenance organizations, Fitzgerald sounded like
a Democrat. Only foreign diplomats and HMOs have immunity from
lawsuits, he said, and added that HMOs' behavior would improve if
they were held accountable. You could almost imagine Senate
Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., muttering to himself, ''Oh
great, another maverick.''

     But Fitzgerald makes no apologies. When pressed on his
views of party loyalty, he said his responsibility is to
represent 12 million Illinoisans. ''I'm not going to abandon or
abdicate that responsibility by giving my proxy to anybody
else,'' Fitzgerald said.

     Meanwhile, the charming, telegenic Edwards, 46, attracted
attention during the Senate's presidential impeachment
proceedings in January. He made such a positive early impression
that Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle, D-S.D., tapped him
to join two other senior colleagues to preside over the
depositions of Monica Lewinsky, Betty Currie, and Vernon Jordan.

     In February, when Edwards explained his decision to
oppose the articles of impeachment against President Clinton, he
wowed his colleagues. He spoke without notes and focused on the
law and the evidence, without delving into the political
implications. Sen. Gordon H. Smith, R-Ore., called the statement
''brilliant,'' according to the Congressional Record. ''I think
we saw firsthand why he has made so much money talking to
jurors,'' Smith said. ''We are seeing right now why I had to make
my money selling frozen peas.''

     When Edwards was asked whether the impeachment
proceedings would contribute to cynicism that there is one rule
of law for the powerful and another for everyone else, he replied
quickly, ''I think Clinton's behavior (rather than the
congressional proceedings) contributes to the cynicism.'' As for
political fallout from his vote, Edwards is unconcerned. He said
he did what the evidence dictated, and added: ''People have moved
on. They want it behind them.''

     Edwards is also winning points by not being a showboat.
He turned down plenty of requests to go on the talk show circuit
during the impeachment proceedings, and has been circumspect even
in Democratic Caucus meetings. But thanks to his soft-spoken
demeanor and obvious oratorical skills, Democrats have given him
a high-profile role in the debates over legislation to limit
liability for damages from year-2000 computer failures and over
managed care.

     Still, Edwards is clearly willing to go his own way. As
Daschle and other Democrats this summer pressed for a modest tax
cut, Edwards refused to go along. He quizzed Federal Reserve
Chairman Alan Greenspan at a Senate hearing, asking whether there
was any reason, other than politics, to cut taxes now. Greenspan
agreed it was premature. In an interview, Edwards said, ''We are
talking about doing this with money that doesn't yet exist and
based on projections that have been historically inaccurate.''

     Daschle talked to Edwards about the advantages of the
Democrats' approach, but he was not persuaded. Other Senators
teased him about the potential fallout from opposing tax cuts.
But Edwards said he has confidence in ''regular people.''
''They'll understand that we shouldn't spend money we don't

     That Edwards would part company with his leader on such
an important issue may suggest that he, like Fitzgerald, is not
afraid to pursue an independent course. That may be just the
strategy if both of these young Senators are to play leading, if
not always beloved, roles on Capitol Hill.

LOAD-DATE: October 19, 1999

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