Gephardt, Bonior retain Democratic leadership posts
Republicans to vote on GOP leadership Wednesday
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, November 16) -- While House Republicans continue to struggle with their leadership questions, Democrats easily re-elected their top party leaders Monday. In a closed session, the revitalized Democratic caucus reappointed Reps. Dick Gephardt of Missouri and David Bonior of Michigan by acclamation to the positions of House minority leader and Democratic whip, respectively.
The chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Martin Frost of Texas, defeated Connecticut's Rosa DeLauro for Democratic caucus chairman, the Democrats' No. 3 leadership spot. And Rep. Bob Menendez of New Jersey will serve as Democratic caucus vice-chair.
"We all talked in our elections today about the importance Democratic unity has had, both in terms of our success in the election and in our ability to move our agenda forward with an even closer minority," Gephardt said Monday. "And it is our unity now that I believe can give us a leg up on our Republican counterparts as we head into the next Congress."
Earlier in the day Gephardt, often mentioned as a possible presidential contender in 2000, welcomed his fellow Democratic members back to the House floor for the first time since their surprisingly strong showing on election. Of the 23 new Democratic representatives, five occupy seats previously held by Republicans. Only one Democratic incumbent failed to win re-election.
Republicans, in contrast, not only saw their ranks shrink to 223 on November 3, but they suffered a major meltdown in confidence in their party leadership.
Just three days after the election, House Speaker Newt Gingrich announced he would not seek the speaker's job for the 106th Congress. The Georgia Republican also said he will step down from Congress by the end of this session.
Rep. Bob Livingston of Louisiana, who announced his challenge to Gingrich before the speaker had even made his stunning decision, has all but locked up the speaker's gavel.
With two days to go until the Republican caucus meets to vote on its leadership, the races for majority leader and Republican conference chairman are far more uncertain, however.
The biggest Republican leadership fight remaining is over the fate of Texas Rep. Dick Armey as majority leader. Armey's challengers -- Reps. Jennifer Dunn of Washington and Steve Largent of Oklahoma -- say the current struggle is about putting a "new face" on the Republican party.
Armey says he has in hand over 100 committed votes of the 112 he needs to win back his leadership role; others say that in this poker game he's bluffing, that he's really closer to 65.
Largent, champion of the conservative bloc, claims about 65 votes in his corner; others say it is more like 50.
And Dunn, the not-quite-so conservative, claims more than 60 votes; others place her at about 45.
The winner must have a full majority, so if no one wins on the first ballot, the bottom vote-getter drops off and the others manuever for the loser's supporters.
But outgoing New York Rep. Bill Paxon, a veteran of the Gingrich's team who left the leadership in the wake of an aborted coup, says the game may have a new player, Deputy Whip Dennis Hastert of Illinois.
"There is no question the race for majority leader has been dealt a curve ball, an unexpected one -- the reluctant candidacy of Dennis Hastert," Paxon says.
There is a "Draft Dennis Hastert" movement underway. And he's considered a real threat to Armey as well as his challengers.
Hastert had committed a long time ago to Armey and sources say Armey wouldn't release him. So Hastert insists he will not campaign for the job. But other sources say Hastert has told them he would "serve if elected."
There is no contest for the No. 3 spot. The hard-liner Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Texas remains unchallenged. But in the fourth spot, Republican conference chairman John Boehner of Ohio faces a challenge from J.C. Watts, a conservative and the only African-American Republican in the House.
Watts is burning up the telephone lines, even though many feel he's over the top in his effort to unseat Boehner.
Tom Davis of Virginia is "stomping" John Linder of Georgia, to quote one source, in the battle to take over the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee.
Linder, as current chairman is shouldering much of the blame for the GOP's disappointing election.
CNN's Bob Franken contributed to this report.
Monday, November 16, 1998
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