Statement by Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) about a reported leadership struggle in the House.

Gingrich Gets Boost Despite GOP Intrigue

By John E. Yang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 17, 1997; Page A01

The reign of House Speaker Newt Gingrich began to take on the complexity of a Shakespearean monarch's yesterday when the Georgia Republican won a public show of support from rank-and-file colleagues at the same time questions arose about whether some of his lieutenants have been exploring ways to depose him.

Gingrich was greeted with a standing ovation when he arrived at yesterday's closed-door meeting of House Republicans, according to lawmakers. He then triumphed in routine votes over internal party matters that had come to be seen as a referendum on his stewardship and, to a lesser extent, that of the other Republican leaders.

But as Gingrich was proclaiming House Republicans were "a unified team," other lawmakers confirmed previously undisclosed meetings House GOP leaders held with dissident lawmakers and underscored what a precarious perch the speaker's chair is for Gingrich.

As recently as last week, some members of the leadership were sounding out GOP dissidents about an effort to oust Gingrich as speaker, according to lawmakers familiar with the situation. The intended beneficiary was one of the House leaders, Rep. Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.), two of those lawmakers said. A variety of members dissatisfied with Gingrich have long been thwarted by the lack of a viable alternative as speaker.

Aides to Paxon and House Republican Conference Chairman John A. Boehner (Ohio) denied any involvement. An aide said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (Tex.) "never discusses in public private conversations with other members of Congress."

"Any and all allegations that I was involved in some ridiculous plot to oust the speaker are completely false and, in fact, ludicrous," House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (Tex.) said in a statement.

When he made a similar denial in yesterday's closed-door meeting, Rep. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), a leader of dissident lawmakers, angrily lunged for a microphone but was restrained by colleagues, lawmakers said.

Gingrich would not comment on the situation yesterday.

But however far they may have been willing to go in trying to push Gingrich out, members of the leadership team remain frustrated with Gingrich's style, according to those familiar with their thinking. They complain he is undisciplined and unable to keep himself from blurting out ideas and proposals to reporters before clearing them with other House Republicans. They also say Gingrich is unable to say no to competing factions of lawmakers with competing requests, leaving it to other leaders to deal with the consequences.

Lawmakers said the effort on the part of some of the leadership to challenge Gingrich dates back five weeks when House Republicans lost a public relations battle with the Democrats over the disaster relief bill. Some of that discontent was shelved while the House feverishly worked to pass the balanced budget and tax cut bills. But yesterday's intrigue springs from reports coming out of a fresh round of meetings last week.

In a story in yesterday's editions, The Hill, a Capitol Hill weekly newspaper, portrayed the leadership's meeting with the dissidents as part of a full-blown coup attempt that Armey backed out of at the last minute. In the closed-door meeting, Gingrich called that report as fictional as the reference in the movie comedy "Men In Black" that he is a space alien.

But other sources confirmed details of several meetings that make clear Republican leaders are at least entertaining discussions of moving Gingrich aside. Thursday night, DeLay met with a group of dissidents to gauge their numbers and intent. Just what motivated DeLay is in dispute. Aides to DeLay and other House GOP leaders said he acted as an emissary of the leadership while other participants said DeLay appeared to be encouraging their efforts.

Then on Friday, the top members of the House GOP leadership -- minus Gingrich -- told representatives of the restive GOP lawmakers to discard any ideas of ousting Gingrich from the speaker's chair, according to lawmakers and leadership aides. Armey, DeLay, Paxon and Boehner told the dissidents that turmoil would only derail efforts to achieve the GOP's long-cherished goal of cutting taxes and balancing the budget.

Among the lawmakers attending were Reps. Steve Largent (Okla.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), Van Hilleary (Tenn.), Sue Myrick (N.C.) and Graham.

Meanwhile, Gingrich and his leadership team carried on with business as usual. They had one of their periodic dinners in the Capitol Tuesday night and discussed ways of changing the leadership structure and their individual responsibilities, aides said.

All this comes on a day when Gingrich was given a boost from mainstream Republicans. At yesterday's leadership vote, Gingrich was sharply defended by Reps. James T. Walsh (N.Y.) and Jerry Lewis (Calif.), whose climb up the House GOP leadership ladder was derailed by Gingrich-backed challenges in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In the race for House Republican Conference vice chairman, Rep. Jennifer Dunn (Wash.) scored a solid 129 to 85 victory over Rep. Jim Nussle (Iowa), who ran his campaign as a referendum on the House GOP leadership's performance. She succeeds Rep. Susan Molinari (N.Y.), who is leaving Congress Aug. 1 to become a CBS News television anchorwoman.

In the race to replace Dunn as House Republican conference secretary, Rep. Deborah Pryce (Ohio), a third-term former judge, easily defeated three other candidates in a race that required two ballots. Pryce's closest competitor was Myrick, an open Gingrich critic.

Dunn and Pryce had behind-the-scenes support from Gingrich.

The two women join a leadership dominated by white males from the South. Dunn called the votes "a real validation of the fact Republicans want women to be not just in the ranks but in the highest levels of leadership."

After the closed-door balloting, Gingrich sought to present a united front. "We are, as a unified team, going to go out and complete the job" of balancing the budget, cutting taxes and overhauling Medicare, he said.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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