Livingston nominated as speaker; Armey fends off challengers
Watts upsets Boehner for No. 4 post
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, November 18) -- House Republicans nominated Rep. Bob Livingston of Louisiana by voice vote to be their candidate for Speaker of the House during a closed-door meeting Wednesday of the House GOP conference. Current Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas also held on to win re-nomination to the Republicans' No. 2 leadership position.
And J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, the only African-American Republican in the House, upset John Boehner of Ohio to become the new Republican conference chairman.
There was no contest for the No. 3 spot. The hard-liner Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Texas was re-elected Wednesday by acclamation.
Although Livingston must still run against the Democratic candidate, Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri, the Republican majority in the House virtually assures the New Orleans native of winning election to the speaker's job when the 106th Congress convenes in January.
In a speech to Republicans, Livingston likened his new job to "herding cats," and made it clear his style will differ from that of the confrontational Gingrich.
"I want to be speaker of the whole House," he said. "We Republicans lose nothing by reaching out to the other side ... we must cooperate to move forward."
Appearing with the leadership winners and challengers in a show of party unity outside the caucus room, Livingston also tried to give the Republicans a fresh start for the 106th Congress.
"We muffed our message a little bit in the last elections, the American people held us accountable. But as Abe Lincoln said, 'A slip is not a fall,'" Livingston said with many members of his new leadership team by his side. "We may have slipped but we haven't fallen. And we are going to pick ourselves up and move ourselves forward, and advance the Republican agenda."
Race for majority leader
It took House Republicans three ballots to finally decide on a majority leader. Armey faced tough challenges from Reps. Steve Largent of Oklahoma and Jennifer Dunn of Washington.
On the first ballot Wednesday afternoon, Armey was leading with 100 votes, Largent was second with 58 and Dunn was trailing with 45 votes. Deputy Whip Dennis Hastert of Illinois was nominated but did not do very well in the first vote.
The winner had to capture a majority of 112 votes, so the person who got the least votes drops out and the others compete for that member's supporters.
On a second vote Armey dropped on to 99 and Largent moved up to 73. Dunn the third finisher in the second vote has dropped out of the running and now Armey and Largent will jockey for her votes.
In the third and final ballot, Armey recaptured his seat taking 127 votes to Largent's 95.
Appearing with Dunn and Largent after the vote, Armey called the race "a merry chase."
"It was a well run race. It was a race of enthusiasm and energy and commitment to principles to which we all have a good subscription." Armey said. "I feel that in the process I have been provided an even more keenly honed opportunity to learn and understand the needs and the interests of this majority."
Dunn told Republicans that it was time to put the infighting aside. "It is very important to sweep up the residue and bring unity back to our team, we have a very slim majority but we are the majority," Dunn said.
Largent, an NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, admitted he didn't like to lose, saying "Steve Largent has been too slow and too small his whole life and this is just one more occasion."
But he pledged to Armey that we would continue to work to ensure that GOP didn't lose the majority in Congress.
Before Wednesday's vote, Armey had said he had in hand more than 100 committed votes, but others say he was bluffing and really had closer to 65 firm votes. There are 223 GOP members in the new House.
Largent, champion of the conservative bloc, claimed about 65 votes in his corner; others said he had more like 50.
And Dunn, the not-quite-so conservative alternative, claimed more than 60 votes; others put her level of support at about 45.
The Republican caucus continued to meet behind closed doors Wednesday to pick the rest of their new leadership team.
In the fourth spot, current Republican conference chairman Boehner was unseated by Watts, a conservative.
Watts burned up the telephone lines, even though many felt he has gone over the top in his effort to unseat Boehner.
"I think the elections that we just came out of ... brought a new energy," Watts said after the vote. "I think it helps us all to take a serious look within ourselves and see where do we go from here and how do we do it."
When asked about the historic nature of his victory, the former football player joked: "I'm going to Disneyland and celebrating."
Before Wednesday, Tom Davis of Virginia was "stomping" John Linder of Georgia, one source said, 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 results. Democrats defied history and gained five seats in the House and avoided losses in the Senate.
Gingrich's swan song
Livingston is poised to succeed House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who opted not to seek re-election as speaker after Republican setbacks in the November 3 midterm elections. Gingrich plans to resign his seat in Congress as well. Livingston announced he would challenge Gingrich before the speaker took himself out of contention. Other would-be speaker candidates either considered running and decided against it, or withdrew in the name of party unity.
Outgoing speaker Gingrich suggested Wednesday before the caucus that "the country's going to be a winner" under a "good conservative" in Livingston.
As Gingrich left his home on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning to meet with his likely successor, Gingrich reflected on how he played a role in Livingston's rise to power. Gingrich remains in office until Livingston is sworn in.
"I helped convince him to run (for Congress) ... when he was going to retire I helped make him Appropriations chairman," Gingrich told CNN, as he and his wife loaded some luggage into a van.
"My goal was to establish a Republican majority for a long time, not just to win three elections," Gingrich, who was first elected to the House 20 years ago, said about his last day as speaker.
Gingrich did not elaborate on what he plans to do after he leaves Congress, except to say it will be a "public life on the outside," where he said he will be making speeches and "talking about where we need to go as a country."
CNN's Bob Franken contributed to this report.
Wednesday, November 18, 1998
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