When Feingold dismissed the concerns as "irrational," Clinton landed a stinging right hook. "Let’s Get Ready to Rumble. . ."

Welcome fight fans.

Not since Muhammad Ali and "Smokin’ Joe" Frazier fought the Thrilla in Manila more than 25 years ago has there been so much buzz. Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call called it a modern-day "Clash of the Titans" — the "Thrilla in the LBJ Room."

The event: A shouting match between two Democratic heavyweights in the U.S. Senate — Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Russ Feingold (D-WI). The setting: A Democratic Policy Committee luncheon. The issue: Implementation of Feingold’s Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act (BCRA) and its impact on Senate Democrats.

The luncheon was organized last week by Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), who brought in Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 and Democratic operative Bob Bauer of the law firm Perkins Coie LLP to present competing viewpoints to the caucus. Bauer represents numerous Democratic House and Senate campaign committees and has expressed opposition to some of the provisions in Feingold’s legislation. Wertheimer is a "reform" supporter who played a large role in crafting the law.

According to the New York Daily News, which broke the story, the altercation began when Bauer warned that senators could face criminal charges for, among other things, seeking general support from an audience that later makes soft-money contributions. Clinton, who voted in favor of BCRA, expressed concern that the new law was unpredictable and claimed members of the caucus could spend an enormous amount of time and money defending against lawsuits filed by campaign adversaries.

When Feingold dismissed the concerns as "irrational," Clinton landed a stinging right hook. "Russ, live in the real world," she shouted. "They’ll be all over you like a June Bug." Feingold fired back with, "I live in the real world Senator, and I function quite well in it."

According to reports from ringside sources, Clinton won the bout by TKO, as a majority of Senators in attendance were nodding in agreement with her. "She clobbered him," one source told the Daily News. "It was riveting, it was wonderful," another told Roll Call. "It was like a genie out of the bottle — somebody actually told Russ Feingold to go [expletive deleted] himself."

Clinton apologized to Feingold on the Senate floor. However, he later stated in an interview that a "core group of five or six Democrats," including Clinton, were "trying to find ways to get around the law."

Despite its high ratings, the show failed to stand-up to the epic Ali-Frazier battle in the Philippines. Neither fighter floated like a butterfly. Clinton, however, stung like a bee. It was a good fight nonetheless, and evidence that "reform" supporters are quickly learning that you reap what you sow. It may even be conceivable that they are now silently applauding the lawsuit brought by more than 80 plaintiffs — including members of Congress, organizations (the Center among them) and individuals from across the political spectrum in challenging the constitutionality of BCRA.

As for Feingold, he’s ready to stand toe-to-toe "with anyone who tries to keep the current system — ‘even those who vote for it [BCRA] and then try to undercut it.’"

Even if it means trampling on the U.S. Constitution.

July 25, 2002
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