House Leaders Line Up Behind Livingston
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, November 8, 1998; Page A1
Striving to avoid an intraparty bloodbath, many top House leaders threw their support to Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.) yesterday in his bid to become speaker of the House, replacing departing Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).
Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) put his vote-counting organization at the service of Livingston, the Appropriations Committee chairman, and knowledgeable sources counted hard commitments from "100-plus members," including a number of committee chairmen, by day's end. Livingston needs 112 votes on Nov. 18 when the incoming House's 223 Republicans meet to pick their new leaders.
From top to bottom in the GOP hierarchy, political struggles intensified as members grappled with colleagues for vital support. DeLay, a conservative hard-liner known for his attention to colleagues' needs, was the only member of the current House leadership team not being challenged, and his support appeared critical for any serious aspirant to party office.
Notably absent was Gingrich, who merited scarcely a backward glance from his colleagues a day after he quit as speaker in the aftermath of midterm elections in which the GOP's majority shrank to only 12 seats.
In Marietta, Ga., Gingrich yesterday confirmed that he would resign from the House, saying that "as a practical matter for me to stay . . . would make it impossible for a new leader to have a chance to grow, to learn and do what they need to do."
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer (R-Tex.) dropped out of the speakership race, saying that "I may be the right man for the job, but the job is not the right one for me."
Archer's announcement left Republican Policy Committee Chairman Christopher Cox (Calif.), who is in charge of the House's investigation of whether rocket technology transfers to China breached U.S. national security, as Livingston's only declared challenger. During the 10 years he has been in the House, Cox has acquired a reputation as being both smart and a perfectionist.
Rep. James M. Talent (R-Mo.) was "about 50-50," a spokeswoman said, and will decide today whether to run. Talent, who was elected to the House in 1992, is considered a "compassionate conservative" with an ability to form alliances.
Although Livingston appeared poised for victory, the same conservative firebrands who were instrumental in Gingrich's Friday demise raised questions about Livingston's ideological credentials and pressed for a broader shake-up in the hierarchy.
A particular thorn was a letter Livingston wrote to Gingrich Friday outlining 16 conditions for his continued support of Gingrich as speaker, among them control as Appropriations Committee chairman over final budget negotiations with the White House.
Rep. David M. McIntosh (R-Ind.), who heads the Conservative Action Team, said the letter reflected "an appalling lack of judgment" on Livingston's part and he would not support him for speaker. He pledged to back Cox.
Conservatives also pressed the cause of sophomore conservative Rep. Steve Largent (R-Okla.), the pro football Hall of Famer from Tulsa, in his bid to unseat Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.).
Also threatened was GOP Conference Chairman John A. Boehner (Ohio), the party's fourth-ranking leader. Rep. J.C. Watts (Okla.), the only black Republican in the House, announced his candidacy yesterday, joining the other declared challenger, Rep. George Radanovich (R-Calif.). Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.) also was considering the race.
Rep. Jennifer Dunn (Wash.), GOP Conference vice chair, flew to the capital yesterday to confer with Livingston and other lawmakers and to mull a possible challenge to Armey or Boehner.
Finally, Fairfax County's Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) announced that he would run against Rep. John Linder (Ga.) to head the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is in charge of organizing House elections for the GOP.
Linder, a Gingrich loyalist, has received a major share of blame for the disastrous midterm House elections last Tuesday in which the GOP lost five seats and nearly lost its majority. Linder said he would appeal to colleagues by noting that he had raised and put $40 million directly into House campaigns, a record amount for an off-year election. Without these funds, he said, "I think it's likely we would have lost the majority."
Davis, renowned for his grasp of electoral system minutiae, said he became interested in the subject by writing his senior thesis at Amherst College on "Political Realignment in the Outer South": "I love this stuff," he said in an interview.
In the bureaucratic jostling and intense backroom intrigue that are the trademarks of internal House elections, Gingrich was an acknowledged master, but one day after he announced he would not run for a third term as speaker, he had already become part of history.
"I wouldn't be in the majority if it weren't for Newt Gingrich," Largent said in a telephone interview. "He had the skills and abilities and vision to storm the castle" to bring Republicans to power in the House in 1994 for the first time in 40 years. But he was gone, and Largent, like virtually every member consulted, was ready to move on. "I think Newt made a selfless but right decision," Largent said.
In Marietta, a relaxed Gingrich told reporters outside his home that "we're looking into all the details and all the legalities" of his resignation from Congress, expressing confidence that his Georgia district "would stay Republican."
"I think there comes a time when you've got to step out and let a new team take over, let the new team try to do the best they can," Gingrich said. "I don't think anybody should be a distraction."
In Washington, it was clear that he needn't have worried. With the help of a group of colleagues who had been planning for months for an eventual Livingston run for the speakership, the total of commitments for the lanky Louisianan arose steadily all day yesterday.
By early afternoon, Livingston had secured help from both DeLay and GOP Chief Deputy Whip J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.), sources said, galvanizing the Republicans' entire vote-counting operation to work the phones on his behalf.
Some early Livingston backers such as Rep. Michael P. Forbes (R-N.Y.), who had raised roughly $500,000 for the chairman's political action committee this year, were making calls yesterday from Livingston's Hill office.
By the end of the day, at least four committee chairmen had agreed to support Livingston: Thomas J. Bliley Jr. (Va.), of Commerce; Dan Burton (Ind.), of Government Reform and Oversight; Floyd Spence (S.C.), of National Security; and Bud Shuster (Pa.), of Transportation and Infrastructure. Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach (Iowa) formally endorsed Livingston Friday.
Livingston's star brightened further at midday yesterday when Archer bowed out, a decision he made after dinner Friday with his wife, Sharon, at the Capitol Hill restaurant La Lomita. "I was 90 percent on the way" toward a run for speaker, he said in an interview yesterday, but he and Sharon began discussing the drawbacks at dinner, and just before he fell asleep he decided the personal costs were too high.
"I now intend to support the candidate who is best able to put principles above politics, ideas before ambition," Archer said. He didn't pick a favorite but suggested that the GOP's comeuppance last Tuesday meant "more opportunity for unification in the party than there's been for quite a while.
"I really believe these leadership battles are not going to be bloodbaths," he said.
Still, the victory may not come without complaint, particularly from social conservatives, whose reluctance to sacrifice principles was a frequent irritant to Gingrich during his speakership and a constant headache for Livingston, whose spending bills often stalled because of hot-button riders on issues such as abortion and education attached by conservatives.
L. Brent Bozell III, executive director of the Conservative Victory Committee, a major fund-raiser for conservative candidates, sent a letter to 300 grass-roots party donors Thursday saying Gingrich and Armey should be replaced.
But in an interview on yesterday, he said he and many other social conservatives oppose Livingston, "a good man and a good conservative vote, but he's not a conservative leader. We need real visionaries. [Like Gingrich,] his goal is to accommodate and compromise all the time." Bozell said he would prefer Talent or Cox.
Conservative Rep. Mark Edward Souder (R-Ind.), another of the fractious sophomores, said he was inclined to back Livingston, but only after he and his like-minded colleagues subjected him to the same kind of scrutiny that presidential candidates face before the New Hampshire primary.
"One of the questions is, 'Does Bob Livingston have the temperament to work through things'‚" and listen to social conservatives instead of losing his temper, a frequent criticism of Livingston, Souder said. "My friends are going to make some noise, and I want to see how he responds."
One GOP lawmaker who asked not to be identified said that while he recognized that Livingston was skilled at forging agreements with Democrats, "conservatives worry he will work across the aisle too much, and we won't have a message that defines us as different."
Staff writers David S. Broder, Ceci Connolly and Terry M. Neal contributed to this report.
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