- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2001

Bipartisanship is so rare that when House Majority Leader Dick Armey encountered it, he thought it must be a sneaky Democratic trick.
One day after the terrorist attacks, Mr. Armey had finished speaking on the House floor when his political archenemy, House Minority Whip David E. Bonior of Michigan, rose and complimented the Texas Republican for "one of the most remarkable speeches" he'd ever heard.
Mr. Armey confessed later, "Lord have mercy my first reaction is, 'What's he up to?'"
It took a terrorist attack to create this pervasive politeness. Nobody in Congress can say how long it will last.
"The question should be, 'How long will the president's 90 percent [approval rating] last?'" said Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican. "I think it will last as long as we do what he said he was going to do in his speech. Getting involved in this long-term war, I think that's going to pull everybody together."
Ideological differences remain strong, but lawmakers say they are consciously avoiding public partisan disputes as much as possible. Even more notable is their civility in private.
Mr. Inhofe took the train from Washington to New York on Thursday with about 40 of his colleagues to tour the devastation at the site of the World Trade Center. The conservative lawmaker found himself sitting on the train with liberal Democrats not ordinarily in his lunch bunch Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Carl Levin of Michigan.
"During the conversations going up there and back, there wasn't any disagreement," Mr. Inhofe said. "If there was something that was being harbored by either side, it seemed to be, temporarily, not talked about."
The atmosphere reminds Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, of the cooperation on Capitol Hill 25 years ago. He said bipartisan trips often produced positive results back then.
"You'd see a strange couple on a piece of legislation [Bob] Dole and [George] McGovern on nutrition matters and you'd wonder how those two got together," Mr. Leahy said. "Then you find out they traveled somewhere two weeks before."
Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat and assistant majority leader, said part of the new cooperation is pure necessity. Congress was already running late with the federal budget when the national crisis arose.
"This isn't the time to nitpick," Mr. Reid said. "This isn't the time to be cute on different pieces of legislation. We don't have time on a lot of this stuff now."
Some partisan issues are still close to the surface. Mr. Inhofe on Friday offered an amendment to adopt the administration's energy plan, which many Democrats oppose because it calls for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
"It's a readiness issue," Mr. Inhofe said. "We are not ready in many areas to fight a war that we are looking at right now. One of these areas is our dependency on foreign oil."
Mr. Inhofe said the energy plan is not a partisan issue because Republicans, too, have ignored a national energy policy.
During debate Friday on an aid package for the airline industry, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, objected to capping executives' salaries while not limiting fees for trial lawyers who might profit by lawsuits stemming from the hijackings.
Democrats also are finding opportunities to promote their issues while rallying around the president. Mr. Leahy, for example, said funding school-lunch programs in foreign countries "is actually a key item in anti-terrorism."
Mr. Leahy said children in impoverished nations often cannot get enough food at home but can be fed at school with U.S. funding. And better educated children, he suggested, are less likely to grow up to become terrorists.
"They go to school and they get fed at school," Mr. Leahy said. "Not only will the boys go to school, but the girls will, too. And you raise [the level of] education. It's a little thing, but it matters."
Amid the gradual re-emergence of such partisan issues, lawmakers are hoping to keep the accompanying sniping to a minimum. And they are making the most for now of their unity, whether legislative or symbolic.
When Democrats last week restored $1.3 billion for missile defense that they had cut from the president's plan, Mr. Leahy said, "I don't see it as Democrats rolling over. We don't have Republican shock and Democratic shock, Republican sadness and Democratic sadness. Everybody wants to know how you come together for what's best for the country."
Mr. Reid noted that he and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle sat on the Republican side of the aisle during President Bush's speech Thursday night. The Senate's top two Republicans, Trent Lott of Mississippi and Don Nickles of Oklahoma, sat on the Democratic side.
"We not only have to do what's right in this world, but what looks right," Mr. Reid said. "For however long it lasts, it's good for the country."

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