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What is the Future of Rod Grams?
By Emily Harris
February 11, 1999
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The impeachment trial of President Clinton is nearly over, and it could be back to other business for members of Congress by next week. But senators and representatives will be assessing the political fallout from the trial for months to come. Polls show that Republicans have lost popularity because of their role in the trial. Minnesota's Republican Senator, Rod Grams, may be one of the Senate's most vulnerable members. But Grams is busy looking past impeachment, and is taking the lead on a key issue the Republican party hopes will resonate strongly with voters and bring support back into the fold.

Sen. Rod Grams (R)

Term: First. Elected 1994. Elected to the U.S. House in 1992

Biography: Born 1948. Four children. Homebuilder. He worked for 10 years as an anchorman for KMSP-TV in the Twin Cities. Grams ran and won a U.S. House seat in the 6th Congressional District. He defeated 10-year incumbent Democratic Rep. Gerry Sikorski.

In the House, Grams was elected Freshman Class Whip and gained the distinction of being the first freshman in the 103rd Congress to get legislation enacted into law: a bill to provide regulatory relief for loans for those devastated by the 1993 Midwest flood.

Source: Politics in Minnesota Directory

SENATOR ROD GRAMS has a focused policy message for Americans in Minnesota and beyond.
Grams: I believe Americans overall are way overtaxed.
His conviction is the centerpiece of Congressional Republicans' post-impeachment program; focused on a 10% income-tax reduction. Grams is going to be one of the GOP's leading voices on the issue. In addition to a rollback in rates, Grams is ready for tax reform, such as a flat tax or a national-sales tax.
Grams: We have one of the most complicated, archaic, outdated, unfair, counter-productive tax systems in the world. You can't put lipstick on a pig and make it pretty and we can't do much to this tax code anymore to try and make it a better one. So what we basically need to do is take a bold step and pull the IRS out by the roots and replace it with a system that is simple, fair and easy to understand.
Grams has been reluctant to talk about possible fallout from the Senate trial, saying Senate rules prohibit discussion of the specifics. And even as impeachment has been occupying much of the Senate's time, the budget debate, including what to do with a massive tax surplus, has already begun. The White House doesn't want an across-the-board tax cut, saying shoring up Social Security is more important. Democratic pollster Celinda Lake thinks the fact Clinton likely won't be removed from office is affecting the GOP's agenda.
Lake: One of the reasons Republicans are really pushing tax cuts is because they feel that the failure of the impeachment process will anger their right wing. Their right wing which still wants this president convicted - it's 25% of the population - while the rest of America is absolutely disgusted with this and wants to move on, also are the people who really, really want a tax cut. So I think they're trying to energize their base.
Lake's polls show most Americans blame House managers for keeping the impeachment process going. Republican polls also indicate that the GOP has lost voters' confidence in many key areas, although they may hold a slight advantage on tax issues. Democrats hope voters will take their impeachment resentment to the polls in 2000. But David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union predicts that impeachment as an issue will fade.
Keene: Right now the Congress and the White House are moving to a major battle over the size and shape of the federal government. And the year 2000 election is going to be far more influcenced by that battle than it is by the question of how you define some of the terms that Bill Clinton used in his various depositions and testimony before the grand jury, or whether or not he's actually president.
The people who feel strongly, either way, about removing Bill Clinton from office tend to be the core members of both political parties. Conservative Republicans say that many members of Congress who support convicting President Clinton are acting on principle, something they say is always a good political move. But Minnesota Democrats plan to use impeachment as an issue in year 2000 races. Dick Senese is the chair of the Minnesota DFL party.
Senese: In terms of our House delegation, we have Representative Gutknecht, who voted for all four articles of impeachment. His colleague, Representative Ramstad, only voted for two of them. I think that just goes to show how out of touch with Minnesotans and how beholden Representative Gutknecht really is to the far right. And I think Senator Grams needs to do a better job of representing Minnesotans. In Minnesota we say that what the president did was wrong, he shouldn't have done it, it doesn't lead to impeachment, let's censure and move on. And Senator Grams would do well to heed that.
But former Republican gubernatorial candidate Allen Quist says any negative fallout over impeachment will be countered by renewed motivation of the party faithful.
Quist: There clearly is a political risk, but the Republicans have done well in the past when they have been willing to take risks. And I would just cite as an example, that clearly the 10-point "Contract With America" was a political risk. But it told a lot of people that the Republicans stood for something, and consequently in the elections the Republicans did very, very well. And I think the principle here is exactly the same.
As the senate election campaign draws closer, money may be more important than the impeachment trial. Democratic pollster Lake says House members are more closely associated with impeachment proceedings than Senators, and that senators' bigger campaign budgets will let them explain impeachment votes in advertising. That could put Senator Grams in an a difficult spot. An analysis of Senate campaign funds done recently by the Capitol Hill newspaper, Roll Call, found Grams at the bottom of the heap among Senators up for re-election in 2000 . He has less than $200 thousand in his campaign account. Roll Call political reporter John Mercurio says that sets the stage for a tough race.
Mercurio: What it does is it draws potential challengers in the campaign, into the race. It encourages them to run. Democratic party leaders can turn to people like Tim Penney, a former representative, who's been talking about running, and say "look, this guy's beatable". This guy's only got $200 thousand in his bank account, we can raise that much for sure, and we can probably surpass him.
Election watchers note Grams is a first-term Senator who won his seat in a very Republican-friendly year. His vote on removing the president will be known soon, whether it hurts him or helps him keeps his seat won't be clear until the election