Despite sharp internal divisions over their past performance and future direction, House Republicans yesterday reelected their congressional leaders, including two who faced spirited challenges.
Rep. Jerry Lewis (Calif.) defeated Rep. Carl D. Pursell (Mich.) on a 98 to 64 vote to win a second term as chairman of the House Republican Conference, the third-highest leadership post. GOP lawmakers voted 98 to 66 to return Rep. Guy Vander Jagt (Mich.) as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the party's House campaign apparatus, rebuffing Rep. Don Sundquist (Tenn.).
Young, conservative lawmakers had pressed for a newly aggressive and assertive direction in the 102nd Congress, which convenes Jan. 3, but House Republicans decided to stand pat despite this fall's open warfare -- among themselves and with the White House -- over the budget, and an election that left them with their fewest members in a decade.
House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.), who was reelected without opposition, told his colleagues that "a little guerrilla warfare can be a good thing . . . but it can't substitute for . . . working constructively to enact our legislative program."
The two contested elections yielded mixed results for House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (Ga.), who backed Pursell and Vander Jagt. It is unusual for a member of the leadership to work against another, as Gingrich, the No. 2 House GOP leader, did to oust Lewis.
Lewis and Gingrich are likely rivals to succeed Michel, who is widely expected to retire at the end of 1992.
After the vote, Lewis criticized the bombastic Georgian, though never mentioning him by name. Lewis called the election "somewhat of a disaster . . . for those who have chosen from within the leadership to actively work against my candidacy. Their purpose was not to help Carl Pursell, but rather to dump Jerry Lewis," he said.
In addition to Gingrich, Reps. Vin Weber (Minn.) and Duncan Hunter (Calif.), both members of the GOP leadership and allies of Gingrich, worked for Pursell against Lewis.
"It's a very real debate," Gingrich said later. "A lot of us are committed to being an activist, reform party."
Some House Republicans saw Gingrich's efforts against Lewis as a mistake. "I think Newt would have been well-advised to stay out of that one," said Rep. Rod Chandler (Wash.), a moderate. "That brand of conservatism doesn't control this conference."
But Pursell's supporters sought to portray the vote as reflecting a desire to avoid further internecine warfare. "Members, more than anything else, want to unify our party," said Rep. Steve Gunderson (Wis.), a conservative who put Pursell's name into nomination. "You never unify the party by purging."
Vander Jagt won a ninth two-year term as NRCC chairman despite questions Sundquist raised about the committee's financial management and a record of losing seats in four of the last five elections. Vander Jagt declined to say whether Edward J. Rollins would stay on as co-chairman. Rollins angered White House officials this fall by telling GOP candidates they should feel free to distance themselves from Bush's budget package.
House Democrats, meanwhile, reelected their leadership, none of whom faced opposition.
Rep.-elect Bernard Sanders (Vt.), a self-proclaimed socialist who ran as an independent, dropped his bid to join the Democratic caucus. House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) assured him that he would be assigned to committees and would be allowed to gain seniority on the panels, although he would not be allowed to serve as a committee or subcommittee chairman, according to House Democratic leadership aides.
Staff writer Tom Kenworthy contributed to this report.