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Rick Santorum in Congress: why his record is costing him now

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In his first year, he helped found the “Gang of Seven,” a group of seven freshmen, including Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, that aimed to shine a light on abuses of a Democrat-controlled House. They helped turn member overdrafts at the House bank into a national scandal that drove dozens of House members into retirement or defeat in the 1992 campaign cycle.

Many insurgent Republicans of his era later softened their tone. Others adapted, easing into the big-spending, big-government bureaucracy they once opposed. But Santorum continued this outsider perspective well into his 16 years on Capitol Hill, railing against congressional perks, pay hikes, and, famously, even the Senate barbershop, which he said should be privatized.

When Republicans finally took back the House in 1995, Santorum had just won a seat in the Senate, where his brash, outspoken style appeared to some colleagues jarring and even toxic.

In a widely cited floor speech on civility, then-Sen. Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia blasted Santorum, without ever naming him, for references to President Clinton as “that guy” and to senators as “liars.”

“Such statements are harsh and severe, to say the least,” said Senator Byrd, viewed at the time as the guardian of Senate tradition. “And when made by a senator who has not yet held the office of senator a full year, they are really quite astonishing.” Byrd called it “the poison that has settled in upon this chamber” – a term picked up by leaders on both sides of the aisle.

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