Livingston's Last Rival Quits Race for Speaker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, November 9, 1998; Page A1
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston (R-La.) solidified his bid for the speakership yesterday as one potential rival dropped out and the only other announced contender, Rep. Christopher Cox (Calif.), told colleagues he planned to abandon his bid, according to GOP sources.
Even before those developments, Livingston said he was confident of replacing resigning Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) as the leader of the House GOP. "I will be the next speaker, I believe," Livingston said yesterday on ABC's "This Week."
"I have over a hundred votes or so now and I need about 112 and I'll have them probably within the next two days," he added. By day's end, Livingston's allies said he was within a handful of the necessary votes.
Among his backers was Rep. James M. Talent (R-Mo.), who had considered a run for the speakership that Gingrich announced Friday he will vacate by year's end. In a statement released yesterday, Talent said he had decided not to enter the race and would support Livingston along with House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.), who is facing at least one challenger and the possibility of two more.
Vote counts in leadership races, which are decided by secret ballot, are notoriously squishy -- a point illustrated by Cox yesterday when he said he had more than 90 members "willing to commit" to him, as he described it, "either hard in support for me or are willing to vote for me."
On CBS's "Face the Nation," Cox said Livingston did "not yet" have the speakership wrapped up. "There's no question that the race is still wide open at this point," he said. But later in the day, Cox met with Livingston and was rethinking his candidacy, sources said.
The fluidity of fast-developing contests has also made it difficult for lawmakers to gauge their colleagues' degree of commitments. Armey's aides say he has 100 firm commitments, for example, but a sudden entry into the race by either Rep. Jennifer Dunn (Wash.) or Rep. J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.), who are both weighing a run, could jeopardize that position. Dunn is vice chair of the Republican Conference and Hastert, the chief deputy whip, is a key ally of Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.).
In his appearance on "This Week," Livingston, known for his fiery temper, came off as amiable and easygoing, laughingly deflecting a question about whether he had the "temperament" to be speaker.
After watching a 1995 clip from the House floor in which Livingston railed that he would "never, never, never give in" in the government shutdown, Livingston said his own mother had called after seeing the speech and said, " 'Hey, you looked like a lunatic. Don't do that again.' And I didn't do that again. . . . When I'm speaker, I will never, never do it again."
Contrasting himself with Gingrich, Livingston said, "He is a revolutionary. I am a manager. They are two different types of leadership, and I hope that mine will be what we need to project the Republican Party into the future."
The race to succeed Gingrich, whose stunning exit Friday night came three days after Republicans saw their already slim House majority trimmed to 11 seats in the midterm elections, set off a domino effect of races for other GOP leadership positions. They will be decided in little more than one week, on Nov. 18, when the incoming 223 House Republicans meet to select their new leadership.
In the race for majority leader, the second-ranking leadership position, Oklahoma Rep. Steve Largent has already announced a challenge to Armey. Dunn is "seriously considering" the race and will likely make a decision today, an aide said. An equally serious threat to Armey could be Hastert, who yesterday was "actively considering a run" and also could decide today, said a source close to Hastert. Although Hastert indicated to Armey on Saturday that he would not mount a challenge, fellow lawmakers continued to solicit his involvement, the source said.
Rep. John A. Boehner (Ohio), whose own post as chairman of the House Republican Conference is also in jeopardy, threw his support to Livingston and Armey yesterday and argued that change at the very top was enough to fix the party's problems.
"I think the members are upset with what happened in the election and there's been some concerns about how we've managed the House over the four years that we've been in charge, there's no questions about that," Boehner said on "This Week."
"But," he added, "I think that most members of the conference really believe that with Newt's decision to leave, that it's enough change. That the problems in terms of managing the House were mostly in the speaker's office and that what we need to do at this point in time is to regroup."
Boehner was pointed about what he described as Gingrich's managerial failings. "There was really no clear agenda for the year. And when there's no agenda and there's no real direction, what happens is you can't, you really can't have a message. You can put lipstick on a pig all day long, but it's still a pig," he said.
Later, on CNN's "Late Edition," Boehner said it was a mistake for House Republicans to have run millions of dollars in ads invoking President Clinton's relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky just before the election.
"The election was not about Bill Clinton or Monica Lewinsky. And what it did was, it raised a pall over the Election Day that didn't need to be there. Our candidates were doing well on their own," he said. "This was one of those elections that was going to be fought over local issues. And to have raised this at the last four or five days before the election I think was a mistake."
Boehner's decision to criticize Gingrich's leadership so directly surprised some Republicans.
"If members saw that, he probably lost two dozen votes right there," suggested one GOP strategist, arguing that Boehner was visibly attempting to distance himself from the leadership's record. "This was someone saying, 'I wasn't involved, it's not my fault.' "
While Livingston has angered some conservatives, such as Conservative Action Team head David M. McIntosh (R-Ind.), he has received the backing of some of the most rebellious junior Republicans, such as Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Matt Salmon (Ariz.).
"One thing Bob Livingston did, he had the courage to step up at a time before anybody else and say, 'This is adrift. I want to correct it,' " Graham said on NBC. "Bob Livingston has told me to my face I was full of it a couple of times, and nobody else has done that. And I admire and respect that."
However, he had some pointed words for Livingston, saying that "Bob has got his problems like all of us do. . . . I don't think he's reckless, but he needs to realize that this is not an appropriations job he's about to get into. It's about a leadership job, and he needs to lead us to be a productive conference, or we're going to lose in 2000, and we should lose."
Salmon, a longtime critic of the speaker, gave Livingston credit for taking on Gingrich when no one else had declared a challenge. "Courage goes a long way with me," he said. "It was getting lonely being out on a limb," he said in an interview yesterday.
But other House members were not making their preferences clear, at least on the talk show circuit. Dunn said, "I haven't made a choice," but noted that, based on her discussions with both Livingston and Cox, if she remains as conference vice chair, "it would be with a far more augmented set of responsibilities."
Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) said on "Fox News Sunday," "I encourage my colleagues, keep your powder dry, let's get back to Washington on November 18th, let's listen to the different options that we have and let's make a decision."
In the challenge to National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman John Linder (Ga.), an aide to Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (Va.) said the Fairfax County congressman was "definitely in the eighties" in securing supporters, including DeLay; committee chairs Thomas J. Bliley Jr. (Va.) and Dan Burton (Ind.); and Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.), vice chair of the campaign committee under Linder.
The spectacle of Republicans touting their credentials for leadership positions on national television has put off some lawmakers, who are more accustomed to having internal House races take place behind closed doors.
Rep. Mark Edward Souder (R-Ind.) said he and his colleagues were particularly taken aback at Cox's decision to declare his candidacy for the speakership on CNN, just hours after Gingrich said he was quitting.
"Cox is impossible to figure out," the lawmaker said. "He announces on CNN. I wonder if he spoke to any members before announcing."
Werner Brandt, who served as a personal aide and then House sergeant-at-arms under then-Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.), said he was amazed at the willingness of Republicans to discuss their candidacies before the nation.
"The only constituency is the Republican membership in the House of Representatives," Brandt observed. "It's hard to campaign for these things on talk shows."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company