House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts (Okla.) briefly threatened to resign last week over what he considered Majority Whip Tom DeLay's efforts to usurp his responsibilities.
As the fourth-ranking Republican in the House, Watts is charged with overseeing the GOP's effort to forge a unified public message. But during a recent GOP caucus meeting, DeLay (Tex.) distributed talking points to Republican members -- so angering Watts that he told House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) in a private meeting that he was considering relinquishing his post, according to several sources.
DeLay, who briefed his colleagues on the budget and appropriations process during the closed-door meeting last week, provided colleagues a handout on the party's "four action items": Social Security, tax cuts, a balanced budget and reducing the national debt. The handout also included an "action items checklist," which detailed tasks such as sending targeted mailings to each district and submitting the party's list of accomplishments to editorial boards and talk show hosts. DeLay offered a prize for the first member and press secretary to complete the tasks.
Watts and Hastert declined to comment on the dispute, though it appeared Watts had withdrawn his threat to resign.
"I will not characterize any of my private conversations with the speaker," Watts said. "I consider that to be family business and not for public consumption or innuendo."
DeLay spokesman Michael Scanlon said the whip was merely responding to a request from Watts for help.
"They were just talking points, not even good talking points, and we're very sorry they caused anyone any trouble," Scanlon said. "We were just trying to be helpful, and we will be much more careful in the future."