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Robert Cwiklik
Robert Cwiklik
House Rules
ISBN: 0394582314
House Rules
Mr. Cwiklik talked about his book House Rules: A Freshman Congressman's Initiation to the Backslapping, Backpedaling and Backstabbing Ways of Washington, published by Villard. He is a freelance writer and former editor for the Ottaway News Service who followed Nebraska Democrat Peter Hoagland through his campaign, election and first year in office. In the book, Mr. Cwiklik discussed some of the issues debated by the first session of the 102nd Congress, including the savings and loan bailout and the Congressional pay raise, and provided an inside look at the political process and the Washington establishment. He discussed how he got involved with the project and to what extent the experience helped shape his view of Congress.
House Rules
Program Air Date: February 2, 1992

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Robert Cwiklik, you have a new book out called "House Rules." What's it all about?
ROBERT CWIKLIK, AUTHOR, "HOUSE RULES": Well, it's about the first year in office of a freshman congressman. And his name is Peter Hoagland. He's a Democrat from Omaha, Nebraska.
LAMB: Why did you choose Mr. Hoagland?
CWIKLIK: Well, really, any freshman congressman would have served our purposes, but the publishers wanted to go with a Democrat, since they're supposedly running the show here. And Congressman Hoagland won his race with, I think, a 3,000-vote victory margin. So we thought that would lend a little drama to the narrative.
LAMB: Who are the publishers?
CWIKLIK: Villard Books, which is a Random House subsidiary.
LAMB: And did they come to you with this idea?
CWIKLIK: Yeah. I was contacted by my agent. And she said, "Well, you know, they're looking for a Washington writer. You're a Washington writer, aren't you?" And so it was billed to me as a look at the human side of life on the Hill, and the idea was that a freshman congressman is still closer to an ordinary mortal than most people up here. So that to get in and perch on his shoulder might give people an idea of what it's like to become a member of the Washington establishment; how does that happen.
LAMB: Peter Hoagland of Nebraska was first elected what year?
CWIKLIK: In '88.
LAMB: When did you first meet him?
CWIKLIK: I met him in March of '89 -- oh, wait a minute, I'm sorry -- in February of '89. And I began to, I guess, shadow him in early March and stayed fairly close intermittently. There were periods when I would hang around the office quite often and then periods when I would draw back when things up here calmed down a bit.
LAMB: What were you doing for a living before you started following Mr. Hoagland around?
CWIKLIK: Well, I was free-lance writing. I wrote several children's books. And, you know, the odd article here and there. But never written much about politics before. And that was also -- the idea was to get someone to write this who was fairly new at writing about politics.
LAMB: Let me ask you a technical question. When I read the book, I kept looking for a picture somewhere of Peter Hoagland. And there is none in the book. What's the reason for that?
CWIKLIK: Actually, I had several pictures that I wanted to put in the book, and I wanted -- there was one that I wanted to use on the cover. But if you know anything about publishing, the author's advice is the last thing that they want when they're facing those kind of, you know, vital questions. So they decided that they wanted this sort of Capitol Hill power kind of look, you know, with the dome floating in the background there.
LAMB: So there was never any thought of having the picture from the publisher's standpoint.
CWIKLIK: As far as -- well, they told me that they were giving it some thought, but I think that was just to make me feel better.
LAMB: All right. Describe Peter Hoagland then.
CWIKLIK: Well, he's a very soft-spoken, conscientious guy. I think he tends to take a kind of an intellectual approach to politics. I think that was one of -- among his main attractions to his public life was a real strong interest in issues and in working out plausible solutions to immense problems, appeals to his type of guy.
LAMB: Where was he born?
CWIKLIK: He was born in Omaha to a fairly prominent local family. There was -- the Hoagland Lumber Company was one of the bigger presences in the local business community. And on his mother's side, there was the Carpenter Paper Company. So these are two well-established institutions that he was born amidst.
LAMB: He's a Democrat. Was his family...
CWIKLIK: His family was very solidly Republican.
LAMB: Was he ever a Republican?
CWIKLIK: He was most of his early life. Actually, it came as a bit of a shock when he changed. It was a bit of a shock to his family. He was back home after having gone to law school and he lived in Washington as a public defender for a few years. And then he married and went back home and was working on the sly on the campaign for a Democrat, a local Democrat. I forget what kind of office it was. And his mother approached him one day and said that she'd heard a rumor that he was a Democrat. And the way his wife recalled the story to me, it sounded as if his mother said "Democrat" like someone might say "drug addict." They were none too pleased about that.
LAMB: Where did he go to school?
CWIKLIK: He went to Stanford undergraduate and Yale Law School.
LAMB: Was he a top student?
CWIKLIK: I think he was a good student. I don't remember specifically any honors or anything like that. But I wouldn't be surprised.
LAMB: At some point -- I don't know whether I wrote it down or not -- in the book you talked about the number of members of the House who had been to Harvard -- graduated, also to Yale. And then I think you said five of those had gone to both schools. Was it, like, 50-some to Harvard and 20-some to Yale?
CWIKLIK: Yeah. I wrote away to all the schools I mention there and got -- they have -- they are very proud of their prestigious alumni. And, yeah, there are quite a few that come from Ivy League schools. But anybody that's hanging around Capitol Hill knows that that's not only in Congress, but in the bureaucracies, there's just a whole lot of people from Ivy League schools.
LAMB: So it really doesn't matter to you or to the publisher that it was Peter Hoagland. It could have been Tom Smith.
CWIKLIK: Well, in fact, my first choice was a Republican, whose name I guess it wouldn't be fair to mention. It would be sort of blind-siding him. And they said that yeah, that would be kind of nice, but, you know, it was kind of like the picture on the cover idea. They have their own set idea of what this book would be, and they thought a majority party person would be much more revealing.
LAMB: Do you have any more on how they actually selected Peter Hoagland?
CWIKLIK: Well, I made the actual selection, and there was nothing very scientific about it. I'm sure you're familiar with -- the Congressional Quarterly does this roundup of the elections and they print these mug shots all across the page of all the new members. And I took a look at all those and I read what limited information there was there, and said, "Well, I think this guy looks pretty good."
LAMB: How much access did you have to him?
CWIKLIK: Well, I had quite a bit of access to the office. I mean, I could basically come in when I wanted to. I wasn't admitted to all meetings, but enough to get a good idea of how things worked. And it's hard to have much access to things like caucuses and there's a lot of members-only stuff going on on the Hill. So to get an idea of what happened in there, I would just have to depend on him to recreate certain scenes for me. And you know how -- these guys are very busy, so there was often just no time to do that. I mean, we'd be running down the hall together. I'm saying, "So, you know, what did it feel like in there? What did this guy say to you?" And he's got eight different agendas going at once. So that was a challenge for a while.
LAMB: What was the first thing you noticed about a congressman -- a freshman congressman -- that got your attention? You say you hadn't covered much of Congress.
CWIKLIK: Well, I was kind of amazed that anyone would want this job, for one thing. I mean, it's just really drudgery. Maybe it was the particular year that he came in, with the S&L bailout landing on his desk with a thud as soon as he got here. I mean, there's just piles and piles of this deadening regulatory jargon that you've got to wade through and try to make some sense out of it and you had to mark up in two weeks, and you've got to be able to vote with, you know, some degree of intelligence on these ridiculously huge issues. There was a lot of pressure early on.

Besides that, you know, he's got a big debt from his campaign, so he's got to raise a lot of money. And he's got a campaign coming up, and he's sure somebody's going to challenge him if he only won by 3,000 votes, so there's a pressure every weekend to fly back home and to meet with, you know, all kinds of different groups and just speak and to, you know, just shuttle everywhere and do everything at once. So it just doesn't look like a hell of a lot of fun to me.
LAMB: Has he told you what he thinks of this book?
CWIKLIK: Yeah. He's not crazy about it.
LAMB: Why?
CWIKLIK: Well, he says that it's cynical, and he says that it's unfair. But I tend to think -- I mean, I've had various readings on that. I've just read a review in the Washington Monthly where the gentleman writing it says exactly the opposite. He says the narrative exhibits remarkable fair-mindedness. So there's two opposite poles. I mean, I think it's fair. And I try to present both sides on any given issue. But I think that the career of a freshman congressman is such that it's bound to look a little fishy if you look too closely.
LAMB: He's in his second term now.
CWIKLIK: That's right.
LAMB: How big did he win the first term?
CWIKLIK: He won his first election by 3,000 votes.
LAMB: And the second?
CWIKLIK: And the second term he won 58 percent of the vote. He was -- it was a landslide.
LAMB: The district, though, has been traditionally over the years Republican?
CWIKLIK: Yes. Well, it's funny because there's a Democratic majority, but Republicans consistently have won there. He was the first Democrat to win in quite some time.
LAMB: After you wrote the book -- by the way, what was the publication date on it?
CWIKLIK: It just came out yesterday, I think.
LAMB: So it's fresh.
LAMB: And when you had the first copy, did you go to him and say, "Mr. Congressman, here's a copy of the book on you"?
CWIKLIK: Well, no. We had an agreement that I would give him a manuscript before publication so that he could review it and tell me if he thought I made any errors in time for me to make changes that I felt were appropriate. And so that's what we did. We sent him a manuscript, and he sent us back a few comments.
LAMB: Were there corrections that he tried to make that you went along with?
CWIKLIK: There were some, yeah. And there were many that I didn't.
LAMB: What kind of things did he want you to change that you didn't?
CWIKLIK: That I didn't? Well, for example, at one point in the book in a kind of breezy section about his biography, I was talking about what he had done in college and how he got started in politics. I, in passing, mentioned that he served in the military -- I forget the years. I think it was '62 and '63. And then I said "wartime," as he later put it in a campaign brochure. But he served stateside; he was never in the Army, and it looked a little bit like he was trying to make it appear as if he was in combat. And there was a picture on the brochure with him in battle fatigues next to a couple of other guys and they had, like, a tank behind them or something. And so he asked me to take that out. He said that brochure didn't exist. And, you know, I had the brochure. So I had to disagree with him on that, on the question of its existence.
LAMB: Is Congressman Peter Hoagland, in your opinion, an honest man?
CWIKLIK: I think so, though I've had my doubts lately about his relationship to the facts. But I think he's feeling some pressure. Congressmen get nervous when a negative ad is aired or when even a slightly negative story in the press appears. So I can imagine an entire book would be the subject of, you know, just paroxysms.
LAMB: Was this book written about in Omaha?
CWIKLIK: Yeah, there was an article about it just before Christmas. And it was basically a "he said, then I said," you know, not very much.
LAMB: The reason I ask you that is that you write a lot about the sensitivity of the people in his office to the press ...
LAMB: ... and to what's said in the Omaha daily newspaper.
CWIKLIK: And I think that's typical, especially in an office where there's a real dogfight expected in the next election. They want to keep the finger on the pulse. They actually had the newspaper faxed to the office twice a day, good chunks of it -- the morning edition and the evening edition.
LAMB: You pointed out in your book that that was expensive?
CWIKLIK: Well, I'm sort of speculating on that. It seems like an expensive way to read the paper, to get it faxed over the phone line. But then again, you know, you've got to wait, I guess, about a week to get it, so if you really need it.
LAMB: But you said Congressman Hoagland was rather frugal.
CWIKLIK: I did, didn't I? I guess there was an inconsistency there.
LAMB: But you said things like if he had a sandwich, he'd take half the sandwich...
CWIKLIK: Yeah. He...
LAMB: ...and wrap it up and keep it.
CWIKLIK: ...personally was. I mean, that sort of ran through his whole method of operation. He himself was personally very frugal, and he personally didn't really enjoy self-aggrandizement. He didn't like people calling him "Congressman," and he didn't like wearing -- you know those lapel pins that members are walking around with that identify them? He didn't like wearing that. He thought that was sort of bragging.

But then again, he knew that -- or he believed, anyway, that success in this game meant, you know, keeping visible. And so when it came time to hire his staff, he didn't hire people that were necessarily policy experts; he hired people with experience in getting free publicity and people experienced in direct mail. So that was the sort of tone of the office. Kind of...
LAMB: How long were you around him?
CWIKLIK: It was several months. From March pretty much till the end of the year. And I stopped back now and then in '90 to tie up loose ends.
LAMB: And when you were there around him, was it every day?
CWIKLIK: No. It was, as I say, for certain periods, if something was coming up, if something was coming to the floor or there were hearings on something, I would hang around intensely for three or four days. And then if things died down, I might back off and not show up for a few days.
LAMB: There are a lot of things in the book that we could talk about, but a couple of the people from Nebraska I want to ask you about, because there are incidents in his congressional life that you write about. A fellow by the name of Larry King. Who was he? And what role did he play?
CWIKLIK: Well, Larry King was -- he ran a credit union back in Omaha, which gained some notoriety when it was discovered that he was basically running it into the ground. It was thought that he was this sort of model of a black entrepreneur. He was sort of wined and dined by the Republicans as the kind of figure that would lead blacks back into the party because he was such a successful entrepreneur, picking himself up by his bootstraps sort of thing. But then it was found out that he had basically robbed -- I think it was something like $30 million from this credit union; and wild fits of, you know, cocaine using and, you know, all manner of things that are not looked upon favorably in Omaha. And it was viewed then as kind of a minor S&L debacle. I mean, it was sort of a little sideshow. It reflected a lot of the things that were going on in the the S&Ls around the country.
LAMB: And how did Mr. Hoagland relate to that?
CWIKLIK: Well, when he got on the Banking Committee, it enabled him to kind of take a more public posture on this Franklin affair, which was getting a lot of attention back in Omaha. I mean, it was just non-stop front-page news and 6:00 news. So if -- the Banking Committee's jurisdiction included credit unions, so to be on that committee meant that he would be suddenly a voice in this entire affair.
LAMB: How did he get on the Banking Committee in the first place?
CWIKLIK: Well, as I understand it -- I wasn't around then. But as I understand it, he and his chief of staff, first of all, visited with John Mack, who at the time was the chief of staff to the speaker -- who at the time was Jim Wright. These things have all changed. I don't really know what you say and how you go about, you know, convincing somebody that you should be the one to get the support in the end. But Dan Glickman, who is from the neighboring state of Kansas, went in there and basically made the case that Nebraska was a banking center and that it deserved a voice. But what really put him over the top was when the vote was tied. It looked like Jim Wright voted to put him over the top, so I don't know. That was all kind of murky and vague, and I'm not sure how he got on there. But that -- something in there may have had something to do with it.
LAMB: Did he do anyting when he first came to Congress in 1989 to begin the process of getting to know people in the party -- anything special?
CWIKLIK: Well, as far as I remember after he'd go to the floor for a vote, he'd actually go back to his office and read up on members that he'd seen or shook -- shaken hands with in these almanacs, you know, that are everywhere, "Politics in America" or there's another one; I forget the name of it. He'd go up and he'd look at the person's picture and read the little biographical section and try to memorize heir name. And it was, you know, that's sort of a job coming into a place with 435 people.
LAMB: Did he take you on the floor with him?
CWIKLIK: No, I couldn't do that. I didn't have -- I wasn't a staff member, so I didn't have any -- even, you know, most staff members aren't allowed on the floor; you need a special sort of status.
LAMB: Did you sit up in the gallery and look down when he was on the floor?
CWIKLIK: Yeah, I would stand in the press gallery.
LAMB: Did you go back to the district with him? And did you travel with him when he would go back there?
CWIKLIK: I went back to the district twice. And I guess I traveled -- I went back with him when he was conducting Town Hall meetings and went to quite a few of those.
LAMB: What was his staff like? How big was his staff? What was the allowance allowed for his office to pay for the staff?
CWIKLIK: Well, the staff, let me see, how big was it? I think there were probably half a dozen people in the Washington office. The staff allowance is something like $430,000, and he most -- as I say, he didn't hire anybody who was, you know, a bona fide Washington policy expert, like an S&L expert or something like that. His staff chief was a political consultant for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee immediately beforehand. His communications director had been his campaign manager. And the office the tone of the office was definitely sort of a continuation of a campaign feel -- at least, that's how I perceived it. I'm sure that Congressman Hoagland wouldn't agree with that, but ...
LAMB: Did you get some sense of why he went into politics in the first place?
CWIKLIK: Well, I took him at his word. You know, he said that he believed that politics -- for him, politics was like going into the priesthood was for others. He believed that it was a way to give something back. And I see no reason to doubt that.
LAMB: Talk about -- the last chapter is about the pink house. Talk about the difference between living in Omaha and Washington. What's the difference in the price of homes?
CWIKLIK: Well, for what they spend here in Washington, I guess $400,000, they tell me that you can buy a mansion in Nebraska for that. I didn't price homes in Nebraska, but it sounds reasonable to me.
LAMB: But he was living in a hundred-thousand-dollar home before he moved here.
CWIKLIK: Yeah. It was quite a nice neighborhood -- you know, nice little red brick house, and much bigger than the one they ended up with here.
LAMB: And did they buy a particular -- I mean, you say the daughter wanted a pink house, and they ended up living in a pink house?
CWIKLIK: Yeah, that was very strange. When it became obvious that they were going to buy a house in Washington, his daughter Katy -- out of nowhere, I guess -- just said, "Look, Daddy, I really love the color pink. I want a pink house."And, you know, he very gently told her, "Well, you know, that would be very nice, but you don't find many pink houses, you know. They're not very common." And the only house that -- they wanted to live in this one particular neighborhood in Chevy Chase so that they could send the kids to the Somerset Elementary School, which is a real hotshot elementary school. So the only house that they could even consider -- you know, get near to affording was this, you know, stucco and brick monster, which was painted pink. And it still is pink, as I understand. I may be wrong.
LAMB: Now did you say that he lived worse here in Washington for $400,000 for his house than he did in Nebraska for $100,000?
CWIKLIK: It sure looked like it. I mean, this was a sort of a three-bedroom. It didn't look like there were -- and it was just a lot smaller and a lot more cramped. And the layout was kind of funny.
LAMB: Did he let you in his home here?
CWIKLIK: Yeah, I went up there once.
LAMB: And what about his family? Where did he meet his wife? How long have they been married?
CWIKLIK: He met his wife in the Washington office of the public defender. I believe that she was a secretary there at the time. She eventually went to law school, too.
LAMB: Children?
CWIKLIK: Yeah. I think they now have five kids. And he has had one since he came to Washington.
LAMB: And what did he do before he got into politics in Nebraska?
CWIKLIK: Well, there wasn't that much time to do anything, because he left out of high school, he went away to school. And when he got back, I think he fairly quickly got into politics. This was after Yale and after working in Washington as a public defender. He went home and began working immediately for campaigns, and he organized a ballot initiative to get Sunshine Laws passed in the Legislature, which was very successful. So he pretty much leaped right in.
LAMB: He was elected to the unicameral Legislature -- the only state in the union that has that?
CWIKLIK: Right, in 1978. And the entire unicameral Legislature in Nebraska, I think, has 49 members. And the House Banking Committee has 51 members. So that's quite a culture shock there.
LAMB: You say he spent his own money to run for the House of Representatives.
CWIKLIK: Yeah. Well, he loaned his campaign something like $250,000. It may have been more. And I thought it was kind of curious that, under the rules that currently govern the system, he can now -- or he did, after he was in office -- he could go to PACs and raise money from them to retire the debt to himself. So basically, the money was coming straight to him. And it was entirely legal. You know, I don't mean to suggest there was anything illegal about it. It just seemed kind of funny to me.
LAMB: You wrote that he couldn't raise money from his office in the Capitol, or in the Rayburn Building, or wherever -- where was his office located?
CWIKLIK: He was in Longworth.
LAMB: Longworth, looking back over the power plants.
LAMB: But he had to go to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in a booth?
CWIKLIK: Yeah, they have -- it's a very convenient -- I've heard it described as an `ethics-free zone' over there. It's a couple of blocks down from Longworth. And you can go in there -- it's a good place to rush over to. It's easy to, like, run over there in between votes or in between meetings and put in 10 or 20 calls.
LAMB: Who does he call?
CWIKLIK: Well, the one day I was over there, he called several banking PACs, the Massachusetts Bankers Association, I think was one of them. And it's all very routine. It's kind of like ordering towels from a catalog. He called up one, I think it was, this banking PAC, and the secretary said, "Well, Congressman, would you fax us an invitation to your fund-raiser? And would you spell your name for me please?" And then, basically, the request would be pushed through kind of like a subscription, you know, and ...
LAMB: And did he take you with him to show you how it's done?
CWIKLIK: Yes. I went with him. I did that once. And he didn't seem very eager for me to be there. It's just one of those things that they're none too comfortable about, I get the sense.
LAMB: Did you ask him about being on the Banking Committee and then using banking PACs in order to pay off his ...
CWIKLIK: Well ...
LAMB: ... campaign loan?
CWIKLIK: I did ask him about that. I didn't ask him about it specifically in relation to his campaign loan. Frankly, it just didn't occur to me. I was so -- I was pretty boggled by this whole system. And that connection didn't occur to me until much later. But I did ask him why he called banking PACs and not others, and he said that he didn't call PACs that didn't have an interest in the legislation before his committee, which seemed to me to be saying, "We only offer our merchandise to those who want to buy it." And it sounded sort of fishy.
LAMB: But Congressman Hoagland -- or let me ask you a question. Is he any different than anybody else on the committee? In other words, did you find anything special about his way of operating ...
CWIKLIK: No, not at all.
LAMB: ... from what the others do?
CWIKLIK: No, no. Certainly not.
LAMB: And everything he did was legal?
CWIKLIK: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I guess what I'm saying is it's morally questionable, I think. I'm certainly not the first person to think that. And I think they question the morality of it as much as anyone. I mean, I think it's obvious ...
LAMB: The members?
CWIKLIK: I think it's obvious from the way they shy away from doing this out in the open.
LAMB: This is what the book looks like. It's called "House Rules," written by Robert Cwiklik. And we're talking about Congressman Peter Hoagland, a Democrat from Omaha, Nebraska, in his second term. But you followed him around for the better part of a year of his first term.
LAMB: Where are you from originally?
CWIKLIK: I'm from Pennsylvania originally, and I grew up in upstate New York.
LAMB: Where did you go to school?
CWIKLIK: George Washington University.
LAMB: Here in town.
LAMB: What did you study?
CWIKLIK: I studied political science.
LAMB: What year did you graduate?
CWIKLIK: That's a very good question -- I think it was in 1978.
LAMB: What did you do after that?
CWIKLIK: After that, I was briefly a teacher, and then I became a free-lance writer. And here I am.
LAMB: In this book, you refer often -- and I wrote it down -- on page 93 to a "festival of flattery." And as you describe what that is, I'll see if I can find a quote from you.
CWIKLIK: I think I remember one -- I mean, you've seen enoughhearings on the Hill to know that it's just common coin here for members of Congress to inject a lot of foam into their remarks. The "most fastidious, most competent, most diligent, most hardworking gentleman from Louisiana."
LAMB: Let me read from page 154. And this is, on June the 15th, Congressman Hoagland, quoting, "'I appreciate our illustrious chairman of the full Banking Committee yielding,' that's Henry Gonzalez, 'yielding time to me and appreciate his gracious handling of those complex issues in committee and now on the floor,'" unquote. "Hoagland enthused, and he was warming up." You go on to quote him, "It is a great pleasure to serve with the gentleman from Texas. He has done the nation and our Congress proud with his handling of this bill."
CWIKLIK: Right, yeah...
LAMB: You refer to that often. Was that irritating?
CWIKLIK: I didn't find it irritating. I found it amusing. And I thought people also would find it amusing. I guess the answer is ...
LAMB: Why is it amusing?
CWIKLIK: ... I don't know. Why amusing? Well, ironic, I guess, would be another way to put it. A couple of weeks later, after Mr. Hoagland sort of basted his committee chairman in that fashion, he basically turned on him on the floor and voted against his position on the bill in a very public way. So it just seems to be a lot of frosting.
LAMB: Is it hard for a freshman member to vote against his chairman?
CWIKLIK: Well, it didn't seem hard for this one. He came to the decision after he got four amendments on the S&L bailout bill, one of which he was only able to get on by literally begging his committee chairman to let it go through -- the same chairman, Gonzalez. He then decided, for other reasons, not to vote for final passage of the bill, though the chairman had asked him to. The chairman was basically lobbying for that position. But on the walk over to the Hill the night of the vote, the last thing he said was, "You know, I wonder if this is going to offend Chairman Gonzalez?" And he didn't seem to really take it -- give it that much thought. I don't know if he really sort of didn't think that through, or if he really just didn't think that he would be offended. But he was -- as I understand it -- furious at it and...
LAMB: Congressman Gonzalez was.
LAMB: There is a -- and you correct me if I'm wrong -- there is a gentleman from Nebraska by the name of Janne?
CWIKLIK: Right. Mike Janne.
LAMB: Mike Janne from Omaha, Nebraska?
LAMB: Who is he?
CWIKLIK: Well, I guess you'd call him a financier. He owns a thing called America First Corporation, which puts together packages of investments for people to join in on. And he acts as the sort of general partner that manages the investments. And he put together groups to buy a couple of savings and loans. And at one point, the bailout bill made it -- it was sort of a complicated provision, but basically it made one group of investors liable for the losses of another group of investors, though they had virtually no common links other than the fact that Janne sat at the same table with both of them. And the one amendment that Congressman Hoagland was able to get in, with the help of his committee chairman, was benefiting Mike Janne back in Omaha.
LAMB: If we can, let's try to go through that in detail. Was Mike Janne a Democrat?
CWIKLIK: No, he was a Republican. And, in fact, Congressman Hoagland went to him for support before the election and got nowhere. But then once he got into office, as so often happens, Mike Janne decided -- or through his PAC -- I guess he controlled a PAC back there -- to donate $5,000 to the newly elected congressman. So things changed. And you send your money with the winner.
LAMB: Go back to what you saidthat Mike Janne was in a position where he was involved in two different S&Ls ...
CWIKLIK: He was the controlling partner in two different groups, or consortia, of investors. And that link alone was enough, according to the original draft of the bailout bill, to make each consortia responsible should the other lose money.
LAMB: Who came to Congressman Hoagland first to try to rectify the situation?
CWIKLIK: Well, I believe it was -- I'm not sure on this -- but I believe it was a former congressman from Omaha, John Cavanaugh, who was working for -- or he was associated with a law firm that Mike Janne did a lot of business with.
LAMB: John Cavanaugh, the same congressman, a Democrat, who had quit Congress for what reason?
CWIKLIK: Well, he said he wanted to spend a lot more time with his family. He quit at a fairly young age. I can't remember. I think he was -- he looked young. I don't know how old he was -- maybe 40 or something.
LAMB: So he brought the idea of a special amendment to Mr. Hoagland.
LAMB: What did he do with it then?
CWIKLIK: Well, unlike a lot of offices, where the amendment might have gone through the staff and bubbled up to the congressman and gotten pretty thoroughly discussed along the way, Congressman Hoagland basically looked it over and said, "Yeah, fine. That's good public policy." And he admitted that he also saw it as a way to build a bridge to the business community back in Omaha. He didn't have much support from them, and Mike Janne could deliver that kind of support.

So it looked good on the merits and it looked good politically. So he decided to go with it. And he didn't bother consulting anybody on his staff. And when they found out about it, a couple of them were pretty outraged because this was clearly a case where, if you wanted to get nasty, you could easily say that here he is, becoming a slave to special interests. And taking campaign money and introducing amendments -- what has he come to, this freshman congressman? And that's exactly what happened when The Wall Street Journal printed an editorial just bashing him. It landed on him with both feet and said that he had -- I think the title of it was Congressional Crack. And basically accused Congressman Hoagland and several other people of not being able to resist the addiction to special interest money and special favors for those who deliver it.
LAMB: How can an editorial in The Wall Street Journal hurt somebody in Omaha, Nebraska?
CWIKLIK: Well...
LAMB: Or did it?
CWIKLIK: I don't know if it did, but it certainly scared them. I mean, the day after it appeared, I was in his office and he told me that he couldn't sleep all night. He said he was tossing and turning and just thinking about it all night, that it really got to him. I think the fear is that, you know, in the next election, somebody's going to take that out and take a picture of it and put it in a video machine make a 30-second spot out of it, saying, "The Wall Street Journal says Peter Hoagland is addicted to congressional crack," or something like that -- you know, one of these brilliant pieces. And they're very afraid of things like that.
LAMB: At some point, had the Omaha World Herald picked up on that editorial and written a local story on it?
CWIKLIK: Yeah, they did a piece on it. Basically a "he said thing." But when Congressman Hoagland went to them and explained the merits of the Janne amendment, I think they pretty much dropped the story.
LAMB: Did the Janne amendment ever become law?
CWIKLIK: Yes. It was in the final version of the S&L bill.
LAMB: Was it hard to keep it in the final version?
CWIKLIK: Well, that was another thing. I mean, after he got beaten up by The Wall Street Journal on this amendment, it came to the floor when the House acted on the S&L bill for the first time. And this was a season when special interests were sort of the main topic of discussion. And Congressman Leach offered a motion to recommit the bill, just before -- it was just on the lip of final or of preliminary passage in the House. And just before that, he offered a motion to recommit, which is a very rare motion. It hardly ever succeeds. And it specified that -- to recommit the bill to the Banking Committee and tear out all the special interest provisions. And it just sort of caught fire in the House that night. And I think it won by -- I mean, that's something you can't vote against. You know, you can't start say -- if you vote against that, you're saying, "Well, yeah, I like special interest legislation." So that lost big time, and Congressman Hoagland ended up voting against his own amendment that night.
LAMB: You wrote about Congressman Walter Fauntroy and a prayer that you -- were you there in the room that day?
CWIKLIK: No, I wasn't. Oh, wait. Yes, I think I was. I'm sorry.
LAMB: And what was it about the prayer that got your attention?
CWIKLIK: Well, there were, I think, two or three -- Congressman Fauntroy opened up the session of the S&L markups, which is when they decide what the final language of the legislation's going to be, and that's pretty much where you can -- usually, if you're a special interest, you can lose $10 million if a sentence is changed here or there. So people have their eyes open during that proceedings. And there's a large temptation for slipping favors into the bill that might not be noticed very easily. And Congressman Fauntroy said a prayer to open the proceedings. He said it was the first time he had done so in 20 years on the committee. I can't remember the exact words, but he basically said, "Look, you know, God help us not to give in to our baser impulses here."
LAMB: There's a headline that you do print from The Washington Times that came as a result of this prayer that said, "Members say grace before digging in."
CWIKLIK: Well, it was very ironic. Because right after he said this prayer -- boom, boom, you know, right -- one after another, special interest amendments came cropping up and were being voted on, and passing. And Congressman Fauntroy, I believe, had one of his own, or voted for them in any case. I can't remember. You're better situated to inform us on this point.
LAMB: Let me ask you about what your reaction was as you're going through this thing. You had not spent much time covering Congress, you told us earlier.
LAMB: Again, what were you thinking as you started seeing this process up close?
CWIKLIK: Well, it seemed kind of funny to me, actually. A lot of these things just seemed to go on exactly as you hear about. I mean, it was almost like a caricature of what you see in the news. People, for instance, introducing amendments that they had received in the mail without hardly even reading, you know, just because someone had given them a certain amount of money, or at least presumably so. It didn't seem like there was much creativity involved, in any case.
LAMB: Is the system honest?
CWIKLIK: Well ...
LAMB: Did you like what you saw?
CWIKLIK: I think there is a lot of room for improvement.
LAMB: Knowing what you know now, would you get into the game at any point?
CWIKLIK: How do you mean? As a politician?
LAMB: Yeah.
CWIKLIK: No, I don't think I have the energy for it, for one. I mean, it just takes an incredible amount of stamina to even run for office, let alone serve there. And I think I would be -- if I were ever to do it, I would be the type that would fizzle out quickly. I'd come in and I'd just start shooting my mouth off and probably never -- I'd never get anybody to give me any money to run again. So I think that's how that works.
LAMB: There's some odds and ends I want to ask you about. Quote from your book, "Late in the afternoon of the last day of full committee markups, a 5:00 shadowy mood settled over the room. While tiresome debates droned on, members eased back in their chairs, some reading papers or swilling beer." In the middle of a committee room, swilling beer?
CWIKLIK: Yeah. There was one guy who was sitting back there drinking a beer. It was late. And it was really painful. I didn't blame him at all.
LAMB: You also say that mess -- you found, during one of the markups, that you arrived at the door early in the morning and outside the committee room -- I don't know if I can say it correctly, but you -- it looked like a bunch of people at a Bon Jovi concert. I don't know if my quote's right, but explain that.
CWIKLIK: Well, I guess, I'm sure you know that for years now, there's been a rule in the House that as often as not, hearings are open to the public, and there's a section reserved for the public. And for a popular -- well, popular might not be the right word -- but for a proceeding where there's a lot of interest, like the S&L markup, lines form early on to get those seats. So approaching the S&L committee room on days when these markups were happening, it was very strange to see these young people -- the teen-agers or very young people in, like, Spandex tights and T-shirts and sunglasses. And it looked for all the world like a Bon Jovi concert, not like Henry Gonzalez and the S&L Banking Committee -- or the House Banking Committee.

What would happen then -- if you hung around long enough, you'd see this phalanx of limousines come pulling up and these lobbyists come piling out in their pinstripes and their Gucci shoes. And they would go up and take the place of the bike messengers, which is what these young people were. And they had been -- all been hired for anywhere from $10 to $30 an hour to just sort of hold the places in line, so that the public seats ended up being kind of like scalped for the lobbyists.
LAMB: Who's Gary?
CWIKLIK: Gary Caruso was Congressman Hoagland's communications director-press secretary.
LAMB: Quote, "Gary" -- this is you writing this -- "Gary had seen members in Longworth hallways give one another thumbs up signs, gleefully predicting they'd get the money. Later, he saw some of the same members denouncing the raise on the House floor. They're such hypocrites, he said."
CWIKLIK: That's what he said.
LAMB: He said that to you.
LAMB: You wrote that down.
LAMB: Why? I mean, what was he talking about?
CWIKLIK: Well, he was talking about the first time, in 1989, that the House -- there was a movement in the House trying to give itself a pay raise. And for a while, it looked as if it wouldn't even come to the floor for a vote. I guess -- you may recall that under the procedure that existed at that time, if they didn't vote on it, they would have gotten it automatically. But there was such an outcry from the public, that they were forced to take a vote. And of course, at the time, an overwhelming majority felt that voting for it was not an option. But during that time, Gary tells me that he saw members -- when it still seemed like the pay raise was going to come through, he saw members you know, slapping each other on the back saying, "Yeah, we're going to get it this time." And then he saw those same people going down to the floor, demanding a vote on this pay raise -- this outrageous pay raise, so that they could kill it. And he didn't quite admire that attitude. I didn't happen to be there, so I'm just reporting what he told me.
LAMB: Your words again. "Throughout the day, tubes all over Capitol Hill -- Hill glow with C-SPAN's coverage of the House and Senate floor proceedings."
CWIKLIK: They certainly do.
LAMB: Let me continue -- "But members with schedules anything near as packed as Hoagland's seldom have time to sit back and watch. Their staffs have even less free time. So sets are left to drone in the background like video Muzak pumping legislative atmosphere to every corner of Congress."
CWIKLIK: Well, I didn't ...
LAMB: You know ...
CWIKLIK: I didn't mean to suggest that nobody's watching. However, I think the way it works is, it's going on in the background, and then you perk up when something interesting bubbles up on the floor or in a hearing. But it's basically on non-stop, as far as I could see.
LAMB: Do they have -- we really haven't gone through this, but what's a day like for Peter Hoagland? Did you follow him often from start to finish?
CWIKLIK: Enough, but it often would start with an early morning issues group. He would meet with a health-care issues group, and they would talk about, I guess, legislation that was coming down the pike in the long term. And they would sort of invite guest speakers in from the administration or wherever, and talk about where things might be headed. He liked to do things like that. And then there might be a meeting of the Democratic caucus, which would -- that was kind of a highlight of the day because that got to be pretty raucous, though I couldn't get him to report verbatim very often on that.

And when the House was in session -- generally, after the caucus, if the House was in session, he would have his series of appointments to attend to. He had a pretty full calendar of either lobbyists or constituents or officials from one place or another coming in to talk to him.
LAMB: You mentioned that he is a very straitlaced type of individual. You also mentioned a couple of times that he drank soda water or whatever at some of these receptions.
CWIKLIK: At a fund-raiser, I think that his drink of choice was club soda.
LAMB: Do you get any sense of how much alcohol is consumed on Capitol Hill?
CWIKLIK: Probably because I was traveling with Congressman Hoagland, it didn't seem to me like a hell of a lot was consumed. But that could be very wrong. I don't know.
LAMB: You start off your book and you talk about Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton for a reason, and I'd like to have you set up that scene.
CWIKLIK: Well, OK. Well, it seemed to me relevant, especially since there's been so much criticism of Washington and Congress of late, along the lines of, "Well, you know, nothing ever gets done in Washington, and Congress never seems to be able to do anything." And it seems clear, from looking at the history of the adoption of the Constitution, that that's exactly how the framers intended for the government to function -- or they basically wanted it to run like a jalopy. They didn't want the hot political winds to drive it in an efficient and fast-moving way. They thought that it would be healthier that it didn't move too quickly.

And as a result, you have a president and a Senate and a House all elected on basically different agendas, all colliding with one another, and all these different points at which special interests can apply their pressure to block things or to get things that they want. But it's very hard for the majority -- all the people out there to come together in one place for one program.
LAMB: Who's your favorite, Thomas Jefferson or Alexander Hamilton?
CWIKLIK: Well, you know, you could certainly see, I think, the blend of the two was probably good for us back then because in a -- you know, the nation didn't have any money, we didn't have any army. To be going around with this sort of absolute democracy probably would have lasted about five years. But I think now there is enough -- you know, there's just enough communications media to get the message out to people. There's enough basis for building a fairly strong consensus on a lot of issues, that it might not be so dangerous to have more of a parliamentary system, to where a majority faction was encouraged to come together. And right now, it's very hard to form a majority point of view in this country, because there are so many different outlets.
LAMB: You write on page 158, "One way politicians control the news agenda is when both parties stop talking about something. Then the press often won't talk about it either. Despite its vaunted aggressiveness, the press sometimes seems to have a yellow streak. It doesn't like to get out front on issues; it likes to follow the leader."
CWIKLIK: Yes. Well, that was -- I think that was particularly true in the S&L matter in 1988. It was, I think, pretty widely known among politicians in Washington that there was something really rotten in the S&Ls, and that something just had to be done about it. But you really didn't hear very much, even though that was an election year. There was a presidential race that year and there was congressional campaigns. You hardly heard a peep about this S&L issue, even though it was a massive problem, and it was bound to cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

And there was a reason for that. And Congressman Leach explained it to me. He said that basically the Democrats were just as guilty as the Republicans. Well, I think he thought the Democrats were more guilty, but we can leave that aside -- and that both parties basically decided to keep quiet about it. Now when that happens, reporters don't get their sources to come out in the open, and they basically would have to take it upon themselves to break it. And that doesn't happen as often as you'd like. A lot of the real big stories that you get are the result of leaks and officials coming out with something.
LAMB: Do you intend to do any more on this subject?
LAMB: You're finished with Congress?
CWIKLIK: With Congress, yes.
LAMB: What's next for you?
CWIKLIK: Well, I just finished writing a book for adolescents about Tecumseh, the famous Shawnee warrior, who led a revolution -- a failed revolution. I guess all the folks out in the Midwest know him well.
LAMB: If you had this book to do over again, would you do it again?
CWIKLIK: I think so. It was a learning experience.
LAMB: What would you say you learned overall, besides what we've talked about?
CWIKLIK: I think I learned just how boxed in members of Congress feel themselves to be. I think they feel that there's so much attention paid to the presidency and to sound bites. Congress doesn't mix with sound bites. They've got a need -- they need time to get out and let their sort of their imagination wander and get arguments out there that are fairly complicated. And it just doesn't happen. So they're often laboring in the shadows. And there's not much encouragement to come out in the open with a constructive program.
LAMB: Do you think that an opponent -- and by the way, do you know whether Mr. Hoagland has an opponent?
CWIKLIK: Not this year. I don't know.
LAMB: But do you think an opponent would want this book as fodder against him?
CWIKLIK: Oh, I'm sure, you know, they'll use anything. I have no doubt that they'll ...
LAMB: Does the ...
CWIKLIK: ... they'll try.
LAMB: Do you think his office is worried about that?
CWIKLIK: Oh, have no doubt. But, you know, that's not to be avoided. That's going to happen. It's politics.
LAMB: Do you think if they had a chance to do this again, would they let you in the door?
CWIKLIK: No, I don't think so.
LAMB: Why?
CWIKLIK: Well, I think he feels now that it was a mistake. It didn't come out the way he wanted it to. But I guess you'd have to ask him.
LAMB: Based on your experience of seeing Congressman Peter Hoagland up close, if you lived in Omaha and had the chance to vote for him, would you vote for him?
CWIKLIK: I don't know if I'm ready to, you know, make an endorsement one way or another. I don't live in Omaha, so fortunately, I don't have to worry about making that decision.
LAMB: Did you see anything that would bother you, besides what you've written here? I mean, is it all in the book?
CWIKLIK: I think so, yeah. I think everything that's relevant is in there.
LAMB: Our guest has been Robert Cwiklik. This is what the book looks like. It's called "House Rules." It's about a freshman congressman, Congressman Peter Hoagland, a Democrat, out of Omaha, Nebraska. And this book was written about his first year in 1989. Mr. Cwiklik, thank you for joining us.
CWIKLIK: It's been a pleasure, Brian. Thank you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1994. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.