WASHINGTON — Like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rep. David Dreier has never held office in Sacramento. But the man the governor-elect named Wednesday as chairman of his transition team is one of the most skilled Republican operatives on Capitol Hill.
First elected to Congress when Ronald Reagan won the White House in 1980, Dreier is chairman of the California GOP congressional delegation. More important, he heads the House Rules Committee, an arm of the Republican leadership that is the final stop for nearly all major legislation before it hits the House floor. And he is a close ally of President Bush, whom he met at a GOP congressional candidate seminar in 1978 before both were defeated in their initial bids for federal office.
Dreier, 51, was all smiles as he dished ice cream Wednesday afternoon at a reception in the Rules Committee's third-floor Capitol suite. The event, an annual gathering that the panel's chairman hosts with Dreyer's ice cream (same pronunciation, no relation), became an impromptu East Coast victory celebration for Schwarzenegger the day after the historic California recall.
"On behalf of the 'governator,' let me just say thank you all very much for being with me," Dreier, referring to the movie star of "Terminator" fame, told the small crowd of lawmakers, congressional aides, ice cream industry representatives and assorted dignitaries.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday October 10, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Congressional delegation -- An article in Thursday's Section A about Rep. David Dreier being named to head Arnold Schwarzenegger's transition team incorrectly referred to 19 Republicans in the state's congressional delegation. The sentence should have referred to 19 Republicans in the delegation besides Dreier.
Although he did not support the recall drive when petitions were being circulated to put it on the ballot, Dreier embraced the campaign to oust Democratic Gov. Gray Davis as soon as Schwarzenegger jumped into the race.
The congressman was one of Schwarzenegger's top advisors and a frequent spokesman for him, and he helped round up endorsements from 15 of the 19 Republicans in the state's congressional delegation. In addition, a Dreier aide noted, none of the four who stayed on the sidelines endorsed any other candidate.
Dreier, of San Dimas, is known as a telegenic politician and a smooth talker on the House floor, but Democrats say he often throws sharp partisan elbows to move the Bush administration's agenda through a polarized House.
Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee, was downing a cup of butter pecan ice cream in the room where Dreier helps the GOP run the House with an iron fist. Frost paused when asked whether he liked his counterpart.
"I don't think 'like' is a good word for your political adversary," Frost said. "I respect his partisan abilities. He does a good job for the Republicans."
Democrats complain loudly about the tactics Republicans employ to quash debate in the House -- many of them executed by Dreier. The Rules Committee, stacked 9 to 4 in favor of Republicans, often votes to prevent Democratic alternatives from reaching a floor vote. It frequently meets after midnight, declaring by fiat that "today" is actually "yesterday" when it suits the Republican leadership's goal to accomplish a complicated parliamentary maneuver within one "legislative day." Democrats themselves used such moves when they controlled the House from 1955 to 1995..
While carrying out the will of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), Dreier has his own policy agenda. He is an ardent free-trader and tax-cutter and supports two of California's most important industries: Hollywood and high-tech.
On Wednesday, Dreier declined to discuss in detail his role on Schwarzenegger's transition team. He deflected questions about the state budget and tax policy in an appearance on NBC's "Today" show, saying the new administration would conduct an audit to identify waste.
In an interview before flying to Los Angeles, Dreier said he couldn't guess what the biggest challenge would be. "There's never been a transition before like this," he said. "This is unprecedented."
One reason Schwarzenegger reached out to him, Dreier suggested, was that: "I'm not tied to any particular Sacramento interest or entity."
But Dreier is tied tightly to Washington. And that pleases other Republicans here who may seek the ear of the governor-elect, perhaps to help place allies in his administration.
"I'm glad to hear [Dreier's] going to be head of the transition," said GOP Rep. John T. Doolittle of Rocklin, near Sacramento. "So we'll have some input."