GOP Leadership Rivalries Emerge
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, November 6, 1998; Page A08
Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.) may decide as early as today to challenge Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) after counting votes of GOP colleagues disheartened by their diminished House majority, Republican members said yesterday.
As rank-and-file lawmakers directed more post-election recriminations at the House leadership, Rep. Steve Largent (R-Okla.) was actively seeking to oust Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.), and members said he has proposed working together with Livingston in an insurgent "slate." Republican sources said Livingston was reluctant to commit to the proposal.
Gingrich moved aggressively to shore up his own support, telephoning 30 colleagues yesterday and receiving public pledges of loyalty from both Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and Republican Conference Vice Chair Jennifer Dunn (Wash.), Gingrich spokeswoman Christina Martin said.
But Conference Chairman John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), himself under attack from nearly a half-dozen aspirants and a potential candidate for the majority leader post, in a telephone conversation Wednesday told Gingrich he should consider stepping down, sources said.
Martin declined to characterize the two leaders' discussions. "I cannot discuss a private conversation between two members, particularly between two friends," she said.
Although Gingrich is fighting back, knowledgeable Republican sources said he was not secure enough to lobby on behalf of the rest of his team, particularly Armey, who has been a target of rank-and-file critics for months and could be especially vulnerable now.
During a day of rumors and speculation, at least a dozen Republicans from all factions tossed their hats in the ring or had them tossed in by others who demanded changes in leadership offices ranging from the speaker down to vice chair of the House GOP.
And if members could not agree on who would seek what, particularly in the lower levels, there appeared to be widespread agreement that some change was necessary after Democrats gained five House seats Tuesday in a stunning off-year rebuke to the Republican revolution that swept Gingrich to power in 1994.
"I personally believe that we got whipped, and when that happens, I think you need to evaluate everything from the CEO to the janitor," said Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), who said a number of colleagues are actively encouraging him to run for something. "I'm not willing to push the panic button, but I think this is an opportunity to evaluate every part of the company."
Watts said he was urging colleagues to "keep your powder dry" until the House GOP organizational meeting Nov. 18, but some Republican sources said some members may demand that leadership elections be postponed -- either to give insurgents time to organize or to give infuriated members a chance to cool down.
From conversations with several members and party insiders, however, it was clear yesterday that the central figure in any leadership shuffle is Appropriations Committee Chairman Livingston, who abandoned plans to retire this year to be on hand to run for speaker because he was certain Gingrich would step down in 1999 to run for president.
One Republican member who asked not to be named said Livingston was "headlong into the speaker's race" and has been calling colleagues to gauge their support as he weighs a formal announcement.
One Republican insider, however, described Livingston as a reluctant standard-bearer who had been content to wait his turn. But given Tuesday's results, the source added, "he feels that a change in the top leadership is almost mandatory."
Several members confirmed that Largent, a pro football Hall of Famer and frequent leadership critic, would try to bring down Armey and had left his Tulsa district to confer with Livingston in Washington.
The members said Largent suggested a "slate" composed of Livingston, himself and another member -- perhaps Dunn -- to run for conference chair, the fourth-ranking position now held by Boehner.
But Republican sources said Livingston was not interested in a slate and spokeswoman Kara Kindermann confirmed that Dunn will support Gingrich, saying it was "unlikely" that Dunn would run for a higher post during the meetings this month.
Even if Dunn is out, there are a half-dozen members who are in the hunt to replace Boehner. Suggested by others were Watts, Rep. George Radanovich (R-Calif.) and Rep. James M. Talent (R-Mo.).
Mentioned by one GOP insider as "urged to, and seriously considering" a run at Boehner was Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.). And former businessman Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) said he was "considering" a run for conference chairman because "we haven't been effective at getting our communications and message out."
"My background is in communications and marketing," Hoekstra added. "I'm assessing whether there are some strengths I have that may match our needs."
The only member of the leadership whose job appeared secure yesterday was DeLay, a staunch conservative known for his meticulous attention to members' needs. In the most trouble was Rep. John Linder (Ga.), a natural fall guy as House GOP chief election strategist.
Several members agreed with Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that an ideal slate would draw from "a wide range of political views and personalities," but one member close to the current hierarchy noted that leaders already spend "an inordinate amount of time" refereeing factional disputes.
And Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), a frequent Gingrich critic in the past, noted that Gingrich has "helped too many people" to be ousted easily, raising $76 million for the party and its candidates during this election cycle, more than any other Republican. "I think it's just going to be hard for anybody to beat Newt."
Staff writers Dan Balz and Ceci Connolly contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company