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Breakfast with the New Speaker

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A LESSER man might have displayed some temper or a little spite - certainly some pique. But not the new Speaker. He had been splashed by smear and innuendo, some of which he knew would cling to him despite the total untruths involved. But over breakfast with upwards of 50 journalists, Tom Foley was winning an A-plus for his forbearance and for turning the other cheek. One hard-boiled veteran muttered, ``What a perfect gentleman....'' Others hearing the remark nodded their heads.

Mr. Foley says: ``I'm not talking about achieving a bland pablum sort of thing. I want tough debate and hard fighting - but with people still being able to get along together afterward.'' That sounds like what the President has been saying since he offered his hand to Congress in his inaugural speech.

Will the Republicans in Congress, tasting blood after bringing down Jim Wright and Tony Coehlo, end their relentless attack - much of which has been a legitimate effort to unseat the corrupt but which in recent days had deteriorated into what President Bush called ``disgusting?'' A writer in the GOP camp had resigned after blackening Foley. Republican National Committee Chairman Lee Atwater had apologized - after receiving a verbal spanking from Mr. Bush.

But GOP political consultant Ed Rollins at a breakfast with the same reporters' group the previous morning, had indicated that the Republican pursuit of Democratic rules-shaders or rules-breakers would go on unabated. He deplored the memo that smeared Foley. But he said he saw nothing wrong in unveiling corruption and that this would go on. He added that the Democratic incumbents in Congress were so secure that it would probably take the disclosure of wrongdoing to allow Republican challengers to push them aside.

So into this arena of passion and heat rides big, quiet, likable and, yes, peaceloving Tom Foley. He likes Republicans and Democrats alike. Years ago I was at a world affairs conference set up by Jerry Ford. Congressman Foley was the only Democratic public figure in sight. Why was he here? He explained that he was a close friend of Mr. Ford's.

Columnist Mary McGrory describes Foley as ``a notoriously decent man who manages to be both magisterial and as friendly as everybody's favorite parish priest.''

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