Republicans vie for speaker's job
Livingston called front-runner
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, November 8) -- The men who want to succeed Newt Gingrich as House speaker are engaging in a frantic telephone campaign for support after Gingrich shocked the nation by announcing he was quitting his post.
Rep. Bob Livingston of Louisiana appears to have a commanding lead in the race, with more than 100 of the 112 votes needed when House Republicans vote for new leaders on Nov. 18. But that could change, and the vote is by secret ballot.
Livingston's chief competitors appear to be Rep. Christopher Cox of California and Rep. James Talent of Missouri.
Livingston got a boost when House Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, the No. 3 House Republican, announced he would support Livingston's quest for speaker.
Gingrich said he decided to leave Congress rather than "allow the party to cannibalize itself."
Gingrich told reporters Republicans will have to work together to keep their congressional majorities and win the presidency in 2000. The next Congress will have 223 Republicans, 211 Democrats and one independent who usually votes with Democrats.
Gingrich said Saturday he decided to quit the speakership and Congress in the face of a Republican insurgency, because he did not want to be a "distraction."
Gingrich said that after working on conservative causes for 40 years and winning three consecutive Republican majorities in Congress, "I could hardly stand by and allow the party to cannibalize itself in that situation, and I felt it (the decision to step down) was best for all of us."
Gingrich said he felt he had to leave Congress, not just give up the speakership.
"As a practical matter, for me to stay in the House would make it impossible for a new leader to have a chance to grow, to learn and to do what they need to do," he said. "And I think there comes a time when you've got to step out and let a new team take over, let a new team try to do the best they can."
Gingrich said it would take every ounce of effort for the GOP to win the White House in 2000. He managed a slap at the Democratic front-runner.
"The prospects of Al Gore as president and a Democratic Congress should be enough to focus every Republican in the country on learning to work as a team in a positive way, to make sure that we offer a better future," Gingrich said.
Besides Livingston, Cox and Talent, other lawmakers could jump into the competition before Republicans caucus to pick leaders for the new Congress.
Livingston announced his intentions on Friday, even before Gingrich bowed out; Cox also announced Friday, on CNN's "Larry King Live" ; Talent said he was "thinking about it."
A would-be competitor, Rep. Bill Archer of Texas, decided not to compete.
"The job just isn't right for me at this time in my career," Archer, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said.
As speaker, Gingrich was the symbol of rock-ribbed GOP conservatism, and House members will have to weigh what sort of speaker they want to replace him.
Republicans are mulling over whether their election setbacks Tuesday resulted from lack of a clear message or the wrong message, and whether the GOP needs to pick someone who represents a more inclusive party -- for example, Rep. Jennifer Dunn of Washington, known as a moderate.
The maneuvering to oust Gingrich and others on his leadership team began almost immediately after the elections, when instead of cementing their majorities in Congress, Republicans lost five seats in the House and only held steady in the Senate.
Livingston, sounded out members earlier this year in case Gingrich bowed out to run for president in 2000.
Known for his fiscal conservatism, Livingston stressed his nuts-and-bolts legislative experience when he announced his candidacy.
"Revolutionizing takes some talents, many talents," said Livingston, the 55-year-old chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "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's candidacy, only two days old, already has divided conservatives. The Christian Traditional Values Coalition called Livingston's candidacy "a poignant example of Clintonesque self-deception."
But Chairman David Keene of the American Conservative Union issued a letter of support for Livingston, calling him "a leader who knows the difference between tilting at windmills and achieving conservative goals -- and what it takes to do both."
Cox, 46, said the leadership question goes beyond the future of the Republican Party.
"The speaker of the House is just that -- the speaker of the House," Cox said. "It is the people's house. It is the business of all of America that is at stake."
The least known of the possible candidates so far is Talent, a four-term Missouri lawmaker from the St. Louis area. He played a role in the 1996 welfare reform debate but doesn't have a national profile.
Archer, 70, predicted Republicans will pull together to pick Gingrich's successor.
"I don't sense right now that there is going to be a bloody battle within the Republican Party, but there will be, obviously, competition," Archer said.
On another front, Rep. Steve Largent of Oklahoma announced a bid to replace House Majority Leader Dick Armey in the No. 2 House leadership post.
Gingrich reported 'serene'
Gingrich's comments during a discussion with GOP colleagues suggested he knew he would remain a lightning rod for criticism and that some members would not vote for him as speaker again.
Gingrich spokeswoman Christina Martin said Saturday that Gingrich knows he made the right decision.
"There's a certain peaceful serenity, a peaceful relieved happiness about him," Martin told The Associated Press.
His days in politics aren't over, Martin added. "He just won't have the distractions of being speaker."
The timing of when Gingrich will actually leave Congress remains uncertain. He suggested he would resign by year's end from the Georgia congressional seat he holds, but Martin said that decision is not definitive. She said, though, it was "highly likely he will not serve out the term to which he was just elected."
Gingrich told reporters he was researching the legalities and timing of his resignation, and was confident a Republican candidate would win a special election to replace him.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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