January 23, 2000
At 30, Scott Hatch had risen to the top of the heap among GOP congressional
staffers. But he found out that, even in Washington, connections and power
have their limits
By Jake Tapper
Estimated Printed Pages: 23
Washington, as we know it, is essentially run by men and women who are not
elected or even appointed to their posts, staff members unaccountable to
traditional constituencies. They rise according to the needs and whims of
their own special constituency of elites. On Capitol Hill, that constituency
is the 535 members of the House and Senate. Toiling in relative anonymity,
staffers serve the needs and interests of these members. From these fiefdoms,
the young and capable can accrue power and prestige. And from these fiefdoms,
they can stumble.
Which brings us to Scott Hatch, a staffer supreme and a true believer in
the Republican cause. For Hatch, a slight, intense Alex P. Keaton type with a
vaguely foxlike face beneath a shock of jet-black hair, there is no playing
down the middle. "This is a war; and we gotta win," he says. For
years he has worked for various Republican organizations. By 1994 he had
plotted and shimmied and muscled his way into the inner circle of Rep. Tom
DeLay, the Republican firebrand from Texas. Through DeLay, Hatch became
instrumental in helping the Republicans win a House majority for the first
time since the 1950s. After that he helped DeLay win the post of majority
whip, and after that he served as DeLay's chief floor assistant -- "my
eyes and ears on the floor of the House," as DeLay put it -- for four
tumultuous years. For many House Republicans, Hatch became the Indispensable
Man when they had problems, political or personal.
A year ago, Hatch moved further up the food chain, becoming executive
director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, working directly
under its new chairman, Rep. Tom Davis of Northern Virginia. They were in
charge of keeping the House in GOP hands in the next election, a pivotal role
in a pivotal campaign. All this for Hatch at the ripe old age of 30.
Success ensued. Davis and Hatch had inherited a $3.5 million debt. They
retired it last June -- nine months earlier than expected. And they raised
$27 million in their first six months -- almost twice as much as the committee's
Senate counterpart and $10 million more than their Democratic House rivals.
In an age in which raising money is the key to survival, Davis and Hatch were
already a long way toward their goal.
But success came at a price. Along the way, Hatch alienated some of the
more moderate members of the Republican coalition. He even crossed swords
with his good friend Davis. And he started coming in for criticism from
fellow staffers who Hatch thought -- and continues to think -- were his
friends and allies.
Then there was the stomach thing. For years Hatch had dealt with severe
gastrointestinal problems. He had insisted on "playing hurt," as he
put it, pretending that whatever it was just wasn't there. He subsisted on a
diet of crackers and plain pasta and special protein shakes. He avoided even
the aroma of alcohol. He considered it a small price to pay for success.
Finally, last September, Hatch's resolve was no longer enough. On the
second day of an out-of-town retreat with a group of GOP leaders, he excused
himself from a meeting and hastily made his way to his room, where he
collapsed. And on November 1, after weeks of testing and months of wringing
his hands, Hatch took a leave of absence from the NRCC.
In a number of closed-door meetings with Hatch, key members of the GOP
leadership -- including DeLay, House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois, and
Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer; men Hatch refers to as "the
family" -- decided to bring in someone new to run things. They chose Dan
Mattoon, a lobbyist for BellSouth and a longtime associate of DeLay's and
Hatch's. When Hatch returns he'll retain his title but will report to
Hatch's friends say the move was for his own good; the last thing he
needed was responsibility for another high-pressure political campaign.
Better to rest and come back fresh. But it didn't take long before the
whispers started trickling out of the NRCC about what really had gone down.
Hatch had been usurped, they said. Davis and others had grown sick of his
intense style, so the GOP leadership took the opportunity of Hatch's illness
to bring in an older, more conciliatory figure -- one who could keep the
moderate Davis in line politically but without the tension that had developed
between Davis and Hatch.
Either way, the trajectory of Scott Hatch's career offers a brief but
telling glimpse of how things get done in Washington and who gets to do them.
It's also a window on the life of the House GOP. Not just on the ideological
divisions, but on the world of networking and whipping and winning. And the
ambiguous and open-ended nature of Hatch's leave-taking is a classic
Washington story of the murky relationship between power and friendship on
Capitol Hill that illustrates how hard it is to get ahead and how easy it is
to fall behind.
A Political Education
The oddest thing about Scott Hatch is the timelessness of his persona. You
could stick him into 1983 and he'd fit right in. Or 1964. It's not that he
seems old, but he's the farthest thing from a Gen X poster boy. He's never,
ever grown a goatee. He's allergic to e-mail. He's not exactly a big fan of
MTV; he has no idea who Fatboy Slim is.
Hatch seems eternally grounded on Planet Reagan. When he describes his
teenage self in Connecticut tooling around the Greenwich High School parking
lot with a "Reagan '84" bumper sticker on his Jeep, you start
looking around for the Jeep.
Hatch's father, Steve, worked his way up from behind the front desk at a
lumber store to owning his own construction business. One of Scott's earliest
memories of discussing politics is sitting with his dad watching the
"CBS Evening News" and talking about "the liberal bias"
of Dan Rather.
After a couple years at Notre Dame, Hatch spent the summer of 1988 working
for Greenwich-based UST Inc., a holding company for U.S. Tobacco Co., which
manufactures Skoal and Copenhagen smokeless tobacco.
"Scott was a bright, attractive, hard-charging type," says
Edward Kratovil, UST's senior vice president and the man Hatch refers to as
his first mentor. "He had a take-charge attitude," Katrovil says.
"He still has it. Every now and then you had to grab onto his coattails
and slow him down." Hatch was 19.
Hatch spent a lot of time that summer helping to prepare for the 1988
Republican National Convention. UST planned to host Prescott Bush, brother of
nominee George Bush, and had also scheduled a breakfast in honor of former
president Gerald Ford. "He became the event coordinator and my lead guy
at the convention," Kratovil says.
Things went fine with Bush and Ford, but the highlight for Hatch came when
Ronald Reagan himself spoke. Hatch phoned his parents from the floor of the
convention as the Gipper's voice echoed throughout the Louisiana Superdome.
"As I listened to Reagan and saw him in person," he recalls,
"his core message, values and beliefs helped define for me what it was
to be a Republican."
Hatch's experience the next summer was a submersion in hardscrabble
politics. Early on in the Bush administration, Democrats on the Hill proposed
an increase in the excise tax on smokeless tobacco that would have cost UST
more than $50 million a year. UST tracked down Hatch at the gym and told him
to pack his bags; he was to head down to D.C. to help kill this thing.
A war room was quickly established in the office of the Smokeless Tobacco
Council, which shared a building with the council's superlobbyists at Patton
Boggs & Blow. Hatch describes his role as "the kid who held the
notebooks for the important people." He sat and watched in amazement as
Tommy Boggs grabbed a phone and left messages for five senators.
Three returned his call within 10 minutes.
"I was fascinated with the raw power," Hatch says.
With his training and his enthusiasm, Hatch seemed like a natural. But
after he graduated from Notre Dame in 1990, he didn't get an offer from UST
headquarters in Connecticut. Kratovil believed the young man belonged in
Washington, and told him so.
"It was difficult for him to hear that from me," Kratovil says.
"He didn't like it. He did not take kindly to my advice and
Nevertheless, Hatch moved here in May 1990 determined to learn the ropes.
He interviewed with 15 to 20 offices before his brusque confidence finally
rubbed somebody the right way. Wandering into the office of then-Rep. Jack
Buechner (R-Mo.), Hatch proclaimed to the receptionist that Buechner would be
missing a great opportunity if he didn't hire him. Lonnie Taylor, then
Buech-ner's chief of staff, overheard.
"He was cocky, he was confident, he knew politics," says Taylor,
now head of congressional and public affairs for the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce. "He was very blunt about what he had to say -- it might offend
other people, but I liked him. I found a job for him."
It didn't last long. Buechner was one of the few incumbents defeated that
November. Afterward, Taylor was recruited by the Bush administration to work
for the General Services Administration. He brought Hatch with him as his
Though he and Taylor established what remains today a formidable
friendship and alliance, Hatch found work at the GSA debilitating. The
government paper pushers who made up the massive bureaucracy looked at their
work as just a job -- they would leave promptly at 5 p.m. Some of the Bush
political appointees were even worse.
"It reaffirmed my disdain for big government and political appointees
who didn't stand for anything but power," Hatch recalls.
But the real pain came with his next gig, in 1992, when Hatch went to Ohio
to work for Lake County Commissioner Robert Gardner, running for an open
congressional seat. Hatch quickly determined that he and the candidate did
not see eye to eye. Regardless, Hatch worked 20 hours a day, seven days a
week. One day in late summer, he collapsed in the middle of a meeting and was
rushed to the hospital. He spent the next two months in and out of the
hospital with an intestinal disorder. He lost 30 pounds.
When Hatch returned to the campaign that October, he and Gardner quickly
agreed to go their separate ways. On Election Day, Gardner lost.
That December, Hatch -- sickly, scrawny and jobless -- returned to
Washington, where he was competing with "6,000 unemployed Bushies
running around looking for work."
These were Hatch's darkest days. His health was shot. He was living out of
a suitcase, crashing at a friend's apartment. He reluctantly took some cash
from his folks rather than go on unemployment. This was not how things were
supposed to go for a boy wonder.
Taylor, at the Chamber of Commerce, hooked him up with a job in his office
as a policy analyst in the lobbying department. But Hatch -- like so many
conservatives -- found the chamber under Bill Archey "squishy on the
issues and in bed with" the new Clinton administration. Hatch was
disappointed and deflated.
It was 1993. Bill Clinton was president. Democrats controlled the House
and Senate. Was there anything or anyone a Republican like Scott Hatch could
Revolution and Its Malcontents
At the same time, the Republican revolution was beginning to percolate. Rep.
Bill Paxon (N.Y.) had taken over the NRCC. Perhaps even more significant,
DeLay had been handed the leadership of an NRCC fund-raising group called the
Established as a way for the NRCC to reach out to the business community,
the council was the perfect vehicle for DeLay, who turned it into an
all-purpose political operation. Part of his new team was assigned to watch
House races, tell him which were competitive and where he could make a
Paxon hired Grace Wiegers as finance director of the NRCC, which was then
not only in debt, but disarray. Searching for a young go-getter to raise cash
for the House Council, she found Hatch through the GOP grapevine.
When Wiegers met Hatch, she was impressed. Though he can be disconcertingly
confident and headstrong, he can also be amusing and self-deprecating. For
all his red-meat conservatism, he's not didactic or dogmatic. The fact that
he's forthright makes his compliments and gestures of friendship seem all the
Why should he go to the NRCC? Hatch asked bluntly. Everyone knew it was a
"She sold me on doing it for the good of the party," Hatch
recalls. "For the good of the team. She told me we were going to turn
the place around."
Hatch resigned from the chamber and set to work. He overhauled the
operation, working closely with DeLay and the others on the NRCC finance
team. They set up breakfast after breakfast after breakfast, like they were
running an IHOP, between Republican House members and the members of the business
community writing them checks. There were also a series of dinners and
receptions based on specific issues, and events based around specific
Having fostered increased communication, Hatch found it much easier to
raise cash. In the year before DeLay and his new squad had come in to run
things, the House Council had raised about half a million dollars. With the
new team, the House Council raised $1.4 million in just 10 months.
Soon it became a running joke. "Every time DeLay saw me, he'd
associate me with a check coming in," Hatch says.
It wasn't long before Hatch was doing more for DeLay than just raising
money. "Scott was very aggressive -- particularly as a fund-raiser, and
that got my attention," DeLay says. "He aggressively pushed himself
into our inner circle and aggressively went to work on our campaign" to
win the House.
DeLay spent 1994 traveling the country, stumping for Republicans, giving
them money and support and whatever else they needed. "The greatest
thing that Tom DeLay ever taught me is that this city is built on personal
relationships," Hatch says.
"We were a resource for the candidates," DeLay says. "All
the way down to understanding what they were going through, getting inside
them, building those relationships. We sent the campaign staffs these CARE
packages put together by some Republican women's clubs. When you're in the
heat of a campaign, you think nobody loves you, then you get this really neat
package full of trinkets, office supplies, neat little Texas things, funny
bumper stickers. It was something to lighten up the day, something that makes
you feel good."
After the Republicans won the House, DeLay began his campaign to become
majority whip. Hatch didn't wait for an invitation to join the campaign.
"He's so aggressive, he forced himself into my whip race," DeLay
says. "But he was unbelievable. He worked 24 hours a day."
In the December 1994 GOP leadership elections, DeLay won on the first
ballot against Rep. Bill McCollum (Fla.) and one of Speaker Newt Gingrich's
best friends, then-Rep. Bob Walker (Pa.). DeLay won overwhelmingly among the
Suddenly, Scott Hatch had a very powerful patron.
Running a minority whip operation is a relatively simple task -- basically,
all you can do is obstruct, not legislate. Running a majority whip operation,
which the Republicans hadn't done in almost half a century, is much tougher.
DeLay's team had to build the whole thing from scratch. "The
Democrats took every . . . piece of furniture [from their whip offices] that
wasn't nailed down," Hatch recalls. DeLay and his team created something
that proved effective.
Democrats paint DeLay as an arm-twisting, heartless SOB whose nickname --
"The Hammer" -- stems from his talent for intimidation. But, while
DeLay can be curt and occasionally rude, his power owes much more to his
efforts to provide a warm and fuzzy and, above all, helpful dugout for his
"It's the opposite" of intimidation, says Rep. Dave Camp, a
Michigan conservative with the agreeable mien of a small businessman.
Hammering people "doesn't work around here, for one thing. If you're
going to be successful around here, you better develop some close
relationships. That's how you get things done."
"It's about being a resource for the [members], all the way down to
understanding what they're going through," DeLay says. "It's about
getting inside them, it's about building those relationships so they not only
feel comfortable with me as a person, but me as a leader."
The phrase that all of the members of the DeLay team use is "full-
service operation." This can entail something as innocuous as a place to
chill. "Some of those late votes on Thursday or Friday nights, there's
really no place for members to go, so you often go to the whip office and
have pizzas," says Camp. "It's a place for members to just hang
Or it can be more substantial. Need money for your reelection? Talk to
that staffer, he'll put you in touch with the K Street crowd. Need legal
advice? DeLay's leadership political action committee, ARMPAC, has counsel on
retainer. Need cover for a tough vote? DeLay has two Appropriations Committee
staffers in the whip's office right over there -- step right up and get
yourself a dam.
"We don't provide everything for them," says Ed Buckham, DeLay's
former chief of staff, "but we try."
DeLay himself is there for members in more personal dire straits. If a
member is having problems with his marriage, DeLay -- who gives GOP freshmen
copies of a book by James Dobson on the importance of priorities -- may
counsel the congressman himself. They may pray together. He may put him in
touch with a member of the clergy. Or the bar.
The list of problems for which members turn to DeLay for support
"runs the gamut," says a lobbyist from the inner circle. From
running out of office supplies, "to affairs with males and females,
Hatch was a fast learner. During his four years under DeLay, he came to
know most of the members: what made them tick, whom they admired and whom
they loathed. Whether the conversation was about Notre Dame football, a
daughter's ballet recital, a wife's birthday gift, he knew what to say.
"Members of Congress are always under attack," Hatch says.
"People always want things from them." He didn't. "I was a
floor staffer," he says. "I was there to serve them."
That he was young, and looked younger, didn't hurt any. That he would go
out of his way to help them didn't hurt any, either. Nor did the fact that he
seemed very good at knowing his place, at never trying to leap over the
Berlin Wall that separates staffer from member.
It was in this hazy world of forthright deference that Hatch seemed to
find his niche. He could shoot the breeze with members, but he was quite
skilled at turning the conversation back to the members' favorite subject:
Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio), for instance, who calls Hatch "a
protege," doesn't know how old he is. Rep. James Rogan (R-Calif.), who
is one of Hatch's favorite people in the world, asks if he has a wife or
children. "He's always so focused on my life, my wife, my kids, my
district," Rogan says. "I never get much of a chance to find out
It was Hatch's intimate knowledge of members' interests and needs that
allowed him to become, at times, their best advocate. In the summer of 1996,
Susan Hirschmann recalls, her then-boss, Rep. Van Hilleary (R-Tenn.), was
futilely fighting a proposal by the Tennessee Valley Authority to impose a
$1,000 charge on the roughly 60,000 dock-owners on TVA-managed lakes.
Hilleary was "trying to get legislation in a bill to prohibit it, and
[then-Rep.] Jimmy Quillen" -- a fellow Tennessee Republican and chairman
of the TVA Caucus -- "had blocked all of his efforts to put it in."
Hatch and others on the DeLay team intervened, and had the Hilleary
legislation inserted into a supplemental bill that was passed on a late-night
"That was a big deal to Van's district," Hirschmann says.
"His delegation didn't help him, but Tom DeLay and his team did."
DeLay says Hatch became an integral part of the team. "Not only was
Scott key to letting me know what was going on in the legislative
process," DeLay says, "but also what members were thinking. He
developed a level of trust with the members. They could ask him what the
scoop was, what was happening. They gained confidence in his political
Before the 1994 elections, Hatch started charting House races across the
country. Using the classic whip scale of 1 to 5, he would rate each
candidate's chances. One was someone in serious trouble. Two was a
battleground. Three meant competitive -- "on a bad night, we might
lose," Hatch says. Four was a race to keep an eye on. Five was no
Hatch's charts caught the eye of Rep. Tom Davis, a fellow political
junkie. They became close friends -- a friendship, like so many of the others
Hatch forged with House members, based on Hatch's skill in preserving and
protecting the interests of the congressman.
"Scott made a point of knowing my district better than I did, both
politically and geographically," says Rogan, whose Southern California
district is one of the more competitive in the country. "He was always
jumping on me for any miscues. He always wanted to know how many times I'd
been back to the district in the past month -- and no matter what my answer
was, it was never enough. He helped me raise money, he would make sure he
knew the people on my staff, he'd make sure I had a good campaign staff, good
constituent outreach, no dead weight. It gave a freshman like myself just a
huge degree of comfort."
Hatch seemed to live on the floor of the House. Other than a serious
relationship with a young woman that ended last summer -- and a hobby
shooting clay pigeons -- his life consisted entirely of GOP House minutiae.
His friends in Congress would tell him to take a moment to stop and smell the
roses, but to little avail.
Still, they needed him as much as he needed them. Rogan says there were
plenty of times when he understood what a bill meant legally, "but I
didn't understand the motivation of the author bringing it to the floor. So
I'd go up to Scott and say, `Why is he or she doing this? What's the real
dynamic going on here?' And Scott would rattle off the bill's complete procedural
history, predating my time in Congress. Or he'd share with me, `This is the
result of somebody having a grievance with the leadership,' or, `This person
is in a tough district and is trying to reach out to the agricultural
community because a vote he cast in the past got him into big trouble.'
"He'd provide the stuff not in the briefing papers, the why of the
legislation rather than just the what."
And sometimes, when the troops got rebellious and the votes got tight, he
would help DeLay drop the Hammer.
Whipping: Theory and Practice
During his four years as Tom DeLay's eyes and ears, Hatch got used to
fielding late-night phone calls from members of Congress at his underutilized
Arlington town house. They phoned to deliver a message to DeLay or to shoot
the breeze or chuckle or complain. They gave information and received
On Saturday, May 17, 1997, the calls were coming in at an alarming rate.
After months of cobbling together a balanced budget agreement with the White
House, the GOP leadership's compromise was being threatened by Rep. Bud
Shuster (R-Pa.), the influential chairman of the House Transportation and
Infrastructure Committee. What ensued is a textbook case of legislative
There's whipping as depicted in political science seminars in ivy-covered
classrooms: the concept of maintaining attendance and party discipline.
There's whipping in practice -- legends like Lyndon Johnson and Sam Rayburn
browbeating and arm-twisting with fierce abandon.
And then there's the DeLay way. While DeLay no doubt relies on a certain
degree of coercion, he also uses a world of nuance. This is where whipping
can become an art form, and none of it would be possible without staffers
In a moment of misjudgment, Gingrich had told Shuster that he could offer
a substitute amendment to the balanced budget agreement. Shuster's proposal
would have added $12 billion in various projects scattered throughout
congressional districts all over the land. It would have blown up the budget
No one in the GOP leadership took Shuster's amendment very seriously. But
over the weekend, back in their home districts, members of Congress started
receiving phone calls from Shuster, his Democratic counterpart Rep. James
Oberstar from Minnesota, and others on the 73-member committee. These calls
were augmented by lobbyists from what transportation committee staff director
Jack Schenendorf calls "a large coalition of individuals who represent
cities, business interests and labor."
Within minutes of this effort being launched, Hatch was alerted. "You
guys should know, Shuster's people are really working this," one
congressman told him.
By the time Congress reconvened the following Tuesday, DeLay knew what was
going on. Hatch and Hastert's aide Scott Palmer had reviewed a list of
members and concluded that at least 40 Republicans were willing to defect.
Shuster's amendment might actually pass.
By 4 p.m., the GOP whips had started to work.
The first step was to identify the magnitude of the problem. They started
printing out whip cards, ranking members from 1 to 5 on their support -- 1
being a definite yes, 5 being a definite no. The cards were handed out to the
16 deputy whips and the 40 regular whips, each of whom had five or so members
assigned to them.
The whips fanned out to feel out their assigned members, learn where they
ranked on the 1-to-5 chart. To gather the members under one roof, the
leadership started calling votes, sounding the bells to get members from
their offices to the floor for largely procedural motions. A normal whip
count might take a few days. This one took two hours.
When the cards started coming back, the leadership turned out to be in
worse shape than Hatch and Palmer had originally thought. Shuster's amendment
looked like it was up by about 70 votes.
The hard work began. Like fighter jets leaving the aircraft carrier, the
whips scattered throughout the Capitol. They had just a few hours to persuade
more than 70 representatives to change their minds about a bill that would
bring projects into their districts and grateful fund-raisers into their
sights. The first key task was to assign the whippings. That was where Hatch
"Hatch has really good instincts about who should whip whom,"
Palmer says. "After somebody comes back and says that Congressman
`Smith' leans no or leans yes or is somewhere other than where we want him to
be, then you gotta assign someone to go back and talk to him again. That's
where there's an art to whipping. Scott always had good ideas about that,
knowing these people well."
Gingrich cleared his schedule and the DeLay people began shuttling members
into his office. What would it take? A group of Western Republicans was
excited about some of the funding for dams and water proj-ects that Shuster
had promised. A cluster of Northeastern Republicans told Gingrich that the
Shuster amendment provided funding for much-needed roadways and rail
Some members would hide from DeLay, or not take his phone calls. Staffers
like Hatch and Palmer were charged with seeking them out. They'd find a
member, tell him that Gingrich was waiting to talk to him. Then they'd escort
him to the speaker's office.
It went on like this all night. Members hunkered down in DeLay's office,
sleeves rolled up, sitting at staffers' desks making phone calls; pizza boxes
were stacked throughout the room.
At 9 p.m., the leadership was down by maybe 40 votes. Shuster and his
people were whipping, too, but, according to Schenendorf, they didn't stand a
chance against the combined forces of the GOP leadership and the Clinton
administration. "They used all of the apparatus of the leadership, and
all of the influence of both the leadership and the administration," he
says. "We were playing on their turf."
Shuster took to the floor. "Make no mistake about it," he said.
"If we do not have this very modest $12 billion increase, $12 billion in
a $2.9 trillion budget, one-third of 1 percent, if we do not have it, we are
not going to have even the beginnings of adequate funds to do the things that
are so necessary such as rebuilding our interstate, rebuilding our deficient
bridges, our transit systems."
By midnight, the whips had cut the lead down to about 20 votes.
Kasich came to the floor. "This is not about roads," he said.
"This is about a team. It is about a bunch of people who got sent by
their troops to go and try to bring something back that could put us together
for once in this House."
By 1 a.m., the whip counts still showed Shuster's side up by maybe a dozen
votes. Gingrich, House Majority Leader Richard Armey (R-Tex.) and DeLay stood
in the corner behind the rail. They were running out of procedural votes to
call. Armey and Gingrich turned to DeLay. "Well?" they asked.
It was the moment of truth. "We were down a dozen votes, but the
question at that point is momentum," Hatch recalls. "So DeLay
nodded with a pause and a look of careful thought, as if he was adding the
votes in his head. He said, `Let's go for it.' "
Every Democrat had voted. The floor was chaos. More than 300 members
hovered. Some 20-odd Republicans were waiting to see what happened before
they cast their ballot.
The vote clock ticked down to 0:00. There's usually a buffer zone of two
minutes before the gavel comes down. The whips weren't sure it would be
Up at the front of the floor, Hatch sat at the leadership desk, worked the
computer, shouting out names of targets. Who hadn't voted? Who had not voted
the way he said he would?
DeLay paced nervously behind him, looking over his shoulder. Whips and
members of the leadership scanned the floor looking for the vulnerable ones,
their heads looking left then right then left as if they were at Wimbledon.
Hatch would see a sought-after member and he'd jump over chairs to point
him out to a whip. There he is! The burly Palmer would -- respectfully --
barrel through the crowd.
Two minutes extended to five and then stretched to 10. Democrats started
calling foul. This was ridiculous! But soon the whips knew they had it. The
gavel came down.
The vote came in. Shuster's amendment lost 216 to 214. Five members didn't
"It was clear to everybody that the amendment would have passed had
members been allowed to vote their consciences," Schenendorf says.
"Only the leadership's arm-twisting, leg-breaking, whatever you want to
call it, turned things around at the last minute."
Hatch helped save more than the budget bill. A few months later, he and
his fellow staffers helped save DeLay's job. The congressman was one of
several GOP leaders who signaled to House rebels that he was amenable to a
move to oust Gingrich as speaker. When the coup was prematurely made public,
most of the leaders -- including Armey, John Boehner of Ohio and Paxon --
denied any knowledge. They lost credibility. Boehner and Paxon lost their
leadership positions. And Armey has never fully recovered.
Some of DeLay's staff counseled him to follow Armey's lead and deny
everything. Buckham and Hatch advised differently. "The concernis not so
much with what happened anymore," Hatch told DeLay about the
rank-and-file House Republicans. "They just want someone involved to
tell them the truth."
DeLay hesitated. But in the end he took Buckham and Hatch's advice. He
confessed his involvement before a closed GOP conference and apologized. He
got a thunderous ovation.
"DeLay was going down the drain," says a lobbyist from his inner
circle. "To this day, people can tell you word for word what he said. He
admitted his role, and they respected him greatly for that. And that was
DeLay acknowledges Hatch's role. "When we were trying to decide what
to do, his instincts were dead on: `You tell the truth.' That's what we
Tom After Tom
After four years of counting heads, Hatch was getting both exhausted and
antsy. He wanted a new challenge.
Hatch was contemplating his next move when Speaker-designate Bob
Livingston (R-La.) strode to the floor of the House in December 1998 and
stunned everyone by resigning from Congress. Which meant Hatch had a new
assignment: help get DeLay's best buddy and chief deputy Dennis Hastert
DeLay had thought about running himself, had even sought the advice of the
Lord, but in the end everyone agreed that Hastert's rumpled, moderately
tempered, teddy bear manner would be better suited to the job. And so the
team got to work. Any other representative thinking of running didn't stand
the remotest chance. Hatch took Hastert by the arm and marched him from
office to office to secure committed votes. Meanwhile, DeLay got on a plane
for Texas to show that this was Hastert's campaign, not his. By the time he
arrived in Dallas, Hastert's majority had been sewn up.
Hatch himself managed the other race, to elect his friend Tom Davis as head
of the NRCC. The two of them had bonded for years over campaign esoterica.
"We would compare trends and megatrends," Davis says. He was
particularly impressed with the fact that "Scott was the only guy up
here who didn't think we were going to win seats [in November 1998]. The
whole leadership was predicting a 10-to-15-seat gain."
Despite the fact that Davis's positions on abortion rights, gun control
and the government shutdown were far to his left, DeLay -- at Hatch's urging
-- made 50 or so phone calls on Davis's behalf. The Virginia Republican
decisively beat the incumbent NRCC chairman, Rep. John Linder (Ga.). Davis
then offered the job of executive director to Hatch. "He put it together
and masterminded my campaign," Davis says.
"If it wasn't for Scott Hatch, I don't think Davis would have won the
race," Kasich says.
Davis and Hatch divided their responsibilities so that Davis concentrated
on candidate recruitment while Hatch shook the money tree. "I think
you'd have to go back to the mid-1980s to find an NRCC that's as good as the
current one," says Charlie Cook, editor of the Cook Political Report.
Not everyone felt that way. One of those who didn't was Rep. Christopher
Shays, a Connecticut Republican of moderate views and maverick ways. When Hatch
was DeLay's floor aide, he'd made clear his feelings that Shays, by
constantly going his own way, had threatened the GOP leadership's ability to
move forward its agenda. And there was a personal dimension to the
Hatch-Shays animus: Greenwich, Hatch's home town, was in the heart of Shays's
district. So the six-term representative was Hatch's own congressman.
Connecticut is a small state more than just geographically. When Hatch had
temporarily relocated there in 1998 to work on a local congressional race, it
wasn't long before Shays heard that Hatch was talking trash about him, that
he was telling people that he'd love to see someone challenge Shays in the
Republican primary in 2000. Shays tried to ignore it.
But once Hatch became the NRCC's executive director, Shays felt he could
no longer ignore him. When Hatch called at Davis's behest seeking to mend
fences, the two men met.
It didn't go well. After they pledged to try to work together, Hatch
observed aloud that a strong conservative challenger could give Shays a
serious primary contest in 2000. Hatch thought he was offering to help Shays,
but the congressman heard Hatch telling him that he wasn't conservative
enough -- and he thought he heard a veiled threat that Hatch could arrange
"I know you can, Scott," Shays replied in the soft-spoken voice
that is as much a part of his style as his owlish glasses and thinning hair.
Last May Hatch phoned about another characteristically independent Shays
action. As coauthor of a high-profile campaign finance bill to eliminate
"soft money" contributions, Shays was publicly mulling whether to
buck the GOP House leadership by signing a petition to force the bill onto
the floor for a vote.
I hope you don't sign the petition, Hatch told him. The bill will hurt
Republicans. Hatch hoped there could be some sort of compromise. He was
worried Shays's move could hurt Hastert, the new speaker.
Hatch saw his phone call as a friendly, frank conversation. Shays saw it
as yet another threat, and a further indication of how Scott Hatch conducted
business. It grated on Shays. Staffers were supposed to know their bounds,
and not supposed to threaten members. Maybe Scott Hatch had forgotten his
`I'll Shake It'
One late night last July, Hatch was making his way to the dome to meet
with Hastert when suddenly he grew very, very cold.
He had been working very hard that week, even for him, and hadn't had
dinner that night. Maybe he was coming down with a cold. "I'll shake
it," he thought to himself.
The next morning, however, it became clear he couldn't. He phoned a member
of the team of physicians he'd been amassing since his 1992 hospitalization.
After Hatch described the gastrointestinal meltdown he was experiencing, his
doctor ordered him to the Arlington Hospital emergency room. They strapped
him in, ran wires in and out of his body, ran tests and stuck IVs into his
arms. After a full day in the ER, Hatch made his way home. One of his
staffers had faxed him a list of 70 to 90 phone calls to make.
"I'll get to that later," Hatch thought to himself as he hurled
the call sheets onto the table and his body onto the couch. Then he realized
he wasn't putting work first -- odd behavior for him.
It didn't last long. Hatch worked from home for a week or so -- his gut was
still behaving in all sorts of disconcerting and capricious ways -- but he
resumed ignoring the pain.
Then in September, he was at the small retreat with top GOP strategists
when the next wave hit. It was there that Hatch collapsed. And his colleagues
One told him, "Looking out for the team is great, Scott, but it's not
much use if you die in the process."
He stayed at home for two to three weeks, sleeping 18 hours a day,
subsisting on Gatorade and toast. He tried to go back to work, putting in
half-days, but he just wasn't there anymore. Colleagues called him, telling
him to stop and take a break.
Eventually he decided they were right.
The NRCC would be fine, they all told him. DeLay called Hatch the day
before the announcement of his leave of absence to tell him he'd made the
He told friends he was taking a temporary leave. He hoped to be back
around the first of the year to help pilot the GOP to success next November.
Meanwhile, his good friend Dan Mattoon would be taking over for a spell. But
some knowledgeable folks at the NRCC and on the Hill were telling a slightly
There had been clashes between Hatch and Davis. Nothing major, just lots
of small things that built up. Much of it was about style -- the aggressive
DeLay style versus the appeasing Davis approach.
House conservatives have a name for moderate Republicans whom they don't
see as standing for anything other than themselves. They say, "He's a
squish." It's not a compliment. With his tentative, nice-guy style, Tom
Davis, in the eyes of some conservatives, qualified.
Last February, after the AFL-CIO announced it would spend more than $40
million in lobbying and campaigning for the 2000 elections, Hatch told the
New York Times, "It's ironic that the union bosses are meeting in sunny
Miami and staying at fine resorts plotting to buy influence among
Gore-Gephardt Democrats rather than using union dues to improve the quality
of lives of their hard-working members."
Davis, who has a moderate record on union issues and several government
unions in his Fairfax County district, didn't like that. Staffers could hear
Davis yelling at Hatch through the closed door after the quotation appeared.
But even after the reaming, Hatch didn't drop the issue, according to
The AFL-CIO is the enemy, he argued. It gives 99 times as much cash to the
Demo-crats as it does to Republicans. To symbolize the disparity he placed 99
Pepsi cans and one Coke can on the credenza in his office. He told anyone who
asked that the cans were merely there for drinking. But the true meaning
wasn't lost on Davis.
Others in the GOP hierarchy began taking shots at Hatch. He was too
intense, they said -- maybe he had learned just a little
too well from Tom DeLay. Just as a successful staffer has a thousand
fathers, a stumbling staffer can sometimes seem like an orphan. People from
the DeLay team seemed all-too eager to talk trash about the former boy
"There are intense office politics in DeLay's office," says a
top House GOP staffer. "Tom DeLay is the kind of boss who listens to his
staff. And that's a good thing, in general, but at the same time it feeds a
very political atmosphere. To say Scott would have enemies around? Sure. Even
within his own camp? Absolutely."
The prospects of the NRCC and the House GOP in November are nowhere near
as bright as they seemed a year ago. Dem-ocrats have made inroads into the
business community, candidate recruitment is sputtering and House Democrats
are so cocky that three representatives already have declared intentions to
run for majority whip after the Democrats' anticipated recapture of the
House. To lay this all at Hatch's feet is ludicrous; nonetheless, if you're a
top Republican, he would make an easy target.
"You've got a guy with a tough, aggressive style who's very
successful and very young -- but also very hard and kind of coarse,"
says a knowledgeable observer. "And he comes in, does a great job and
raises gobs of money, but there's still this underlying friction with Davis,
who has a more moderate style. And they clashed. And then Scott's health
continues to deteriorate, and then it just happens: Dan Mattoon comes
"When you spend too much time in the power corridors, you know, your
perspective gets fuzzy," Scott Hatch is saying. His illness has given
him a "chance to step back and look at my life for the first time in a
Hatch spent the fall shuttling between teams of experts at Washington
Hospital Center and Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore. There were
innumerable tests, scopes, blood samples, invasive procedures. "It was
not very fun," he says.
At the end of it all, doctors couldn't settle on a definitive diagnosis,
and regard his illness as an amalgam of biochemical and hormonal disorders
including colitis and irritable bowel syndrome. He was given a new set of
medications. He regained the 10 to 12 pounds he lost after he collapsed. He
added a nutritionist and fitness trainer to his Rolodex. As Congress returns
to work in coming days, so, too, should Hatch.
Then again, there are rumors that he is being wooed by various private
companies. As of the first week in January, all Hatch would say is that he
"will continue to play a constructive role for the team."
Speaking by phone from his parents' lake home in Connecticut, Hatch says
he's had a chance to spend time with family and friends. "It reconnects
you with what's important in people's lives, and what really matters. It's a
real-world connection versus the constant political BS you deal with on
Capitol Hill, the billions of dollars dedicated to this or the posturing in
the newspaper for that."
He concedes his style contributed to his illness and says he's ready to
lower his intensity and reduce his work hours. But he's not retreating an
inch from his passion for political combat. Nor does he accept that his
friends in the House used the opportunity of his illness to effectively
demote him and put someone over him whom they trusted more. He still believes
"There are two types of people in this city: those who passionately
care about things and those who are out for themselves. I think about the
fights we've been through -- winning the majority, the balanced budget,
welfare reform -- it takes people with a special passion to get things done.
The John Kasichs, the Tom DeLays, the Jim Rogans, the Denny Hasterts, the Bob
Ehrlichs. Those are the kinds of leaders I like working for. They have a
passion to win. They have a soul. They're not afraid of a good fight."
And anyone in his own camp downgrading his role, leaking to the press,
sniping at him anonymously, is just plain missing the point. "They
should be spending their time taking it to the enemy," he says,
"doing what it takes to win -- not playing internal politics."
In the thick of his illness, Hatch found himself awake at 3:30 a.m. He
turned on C-SPAN to find a familiar face. It was a rebroadcast of Ronald
Reagan delivering his first Inaugural Address. "It reminded me of why I
came to Washington," says Scott Hatch.
Jake Tapper is Washington correspondent for Salon.com. He will be fielding
questions and comments about this article Monday at 1 p.m. at
Caption: INFO-GRAPHIC WILLIAM DUKE
Copyright 2000 The Washington Post
Record Number: 012300LW08YO2275