Byline: Eric Krol Daily Herald Political Writer
WASHINGTON - Talk to Congressman Henry Hyde four months ago and you'd have found a man seriously mulling retirement.
"It very well could be my last term," the 76-year-old Wood Dale Republican said the day after winning his 14th term. "I have to do some thinking."
Consider the thought process finished. Hyde appears re-energized by his new role as chairman of the House International Relations Committee, and Republican colleagues say he's entering the lofty arena of statesman.
"Henry Hyde is the archetypal patriarch. He has years of experience and wisdom that only elder statesmen have," said Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, who benefited from Hyde's early endorsement in 1998. "And he looks the part. He looks as though he's from central casting. That doesn't hurt either."
The new assignment in foreign affairs also provides Hyde, as he enters the twilight of his political career, with a chance to secure his place in history as someone more than just the guy who led the impeachment hearings against President Clinton.
Hyde demurs at that notion, saying only that he's had a long- standing interest in world affairs since serving a year-and-a-half in combat in the Philippines during World War II.
"You live one day at a time," Hyde said when asked if he was trying to cap his legacy with the latest chairmanship.
Hyde's opponent last fall, Lombard attorney Brent Christensen, said the new role owes more to the fact that House GOP term limits forced Hyde to leave his judiciary chairman post for another panel.
"I think he fancies himself a statesman and he's trying to pad his resume for the history books," Christensen said.
A look to his legacy
Generating controversy is nothing new to Hyde, who first gained national prominence for his fight against abortion during the 1980s. The Hyde Amendment restricts federal abortion funding.
But that paled in comparison to the attention Hyde garnered in 1998, when his job as House judiciary chairman meant he would be the one to preside over the Clinton impeachment inquiry and serve as lead prosecutor in the subsequent Senate trial.
In the electrically charged, partisan atmosphere of the impeachment investigation, Hyde suffered the embarrassing revelation that 30 years earlier, while in his 40s, he'd had an extramarital affair. He called it a "youthful indiscretion," providing fodder for the Leno and Letterman crowds.
At the time, Hyde said he was most hurt by the barrage of attacks on his integrity from Democrats who said his handling of the impeachment hearings was over-the-top partisan.
Have the wounds healed?
"Every day in every way," Hyde replies.
Although the saga no longer stings, he says, it obviously remains a big part of his life. On his office wall hangs an impeachment-era London Daily Telegraph story with the quintessentially British headline "They came in, two by two, to call for Clinton's head." Near it hangs a picture of the Senate rendering its verdict in favor of leaving Clinton in office.
The wounds also appear to be healing with colleagues like Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Springfield. The two clashed during impeachment but when asked about Hyde now, Durbin called him "one of the brightest members of the House."
For his part, Hyde said Clinton's agreement with prosecutors the …