For Livingston, the Time Is Now
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 7, 1998; Page A1
The relationship between Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.) and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) came full circle yesterday.
It was Gingrich, after all, who in 1994 asked the hot-tempered Louisianan to take over as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, bypassing several more senior members of the panel. And it was Gingrich who earlier this year, amid rumors that Livingston was planning to leave Congress, urged him to run for another term.
But yesterday, at a Capitol Hill news conference, it was Livingston who was telling Gingrich to hit the road, part of the day's rapidly moving developments that climaxed a few hours later with Gingrich's stunning announcement that he was stepping down as speaker.
Livingston had hoped to succeed Gingrich, but not in this fashion, not this soon, assuming that he is the choice of House Republicans to be their leader. What changed all that was the GOP's disappointing performance in Tuesday's midterm elections. That accelerated Livingston's timetable.
Yesterday Livingston described Gingrich yesterday as "my dear friend" and "a man of Churchillian proportions." But Livingston contrasted his own "management style" of focusing narrowly on the business of the House with the "haze of high rhetoric and miscast priorities" that many critics have come to see as the hallmark of Gingrich's leadership.
"Revolutionizing takes some talents – many talents," Livingston said. "My friend Newt Gingrich brought those talents to bear and put the Republicans in the majority. Day-to-day governing takes others. I believe I have those talents."
Livingston has had ample opportunity to demonstrate his approach to government during the four years he has headed the key spending committee in Congress. At his first meeting as Appropriations Committee chairman in 1995, he showed up armed with a machete and an alligator-skinning knife – symbols, he said, of what he intended to do to the federal budget.
Since then, Livingston, 55, has proven to be a tough, skillful negotiator, much more the back-room dealmaker than is the outspoken, spotlight-seeking Gingrich. Livingston's committee cut billions of dollars in spending soon after the Republicans took control of the House. He is a conservative in a more traditional mold than some of his younger Republican colleagues, and among those he has clashed with are other conservatives of his own party, frequently rebuffing their attempts to attach "riders" to advance pet GOP policy goals to appropriations bills.
A tall, physically imposing man, Livingston has a fiery temper that has at times made for an explosive appropriations process. According to Congressional Quarterly's "Politics in America," Livingston and the top aide to then-House Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) almost came to blows when Livingston opened a 1995 meeting by telling Roberts: "Some son of a bitch on your staff has been saying bad stuff about my staff in the press and I'm tired of it."
But Livingston can also be an amiable adversary. He retained key Appropriations Committee Democratic staff aides after the GOP takeover and has forged a good working relationship with the panel's ranking Democrat, Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.)
Livingston also contributed to a fiasco that has come to haunt Republicans in the Gingrich era: the showdown with the Clinton administration over the 1995 government shutdown. As House Republicans prepared to vote to extend the shutdown through the Christmas holidays, Livingston took to the floor and thundered, "We will never, never, never give in. . . . We will stay here until doomsday."
The speech thrilled House Republicans, but repeated showings of the soundbite on television news programs deepened the public perception that the GOP was responsible for the government paralysis in Washington.
Livingston comes from distinguished political lineage: One of his ancestors administered the oath of office to President George Washington and later, as ambassador to France, helped to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. But Livingston grew up in modest circumstances in New Orleans, dropping out of Tulane University to join the Navy before returning to Tulane to earn a bachelor's degree and graduate from law school.
A prosperous lawyer, Livingston was elected to the House in a special election in 1977, when he became the first Republican to represent the district in the New Orleans suburbs since Reconstruction. Married and the father of four children, his seat in what was once solid Democratic territory is so safe that he was reelected Tuesday without opposition.
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