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Paxon Resigns From GOP Leadership

Gingrich goes 'nuclear,' accepts resignation after attempt to oust him fails


WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, July 17) -- Following a failed GOP attempt to oust House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rep. Bill Paxon of New York resigned as chairman of the House GOP leadership. Long a loyal liege of Gingrich, Paxon stepped down after a stormy meeting last night during which Gingrich blasted his deputies for disloyalty.

Paxon's ouster, viewed as payback for his disloyalty to Gingrich, follows efforts by disaffected House Republicans to replace the speaker. The resignation comes on the heels of the departure of Paxon's wife, Rep. Susan Molinari, from Capitol Hill. A longtime Gingrich ally, Molinari is leaving Congress to join CBS News.

Rumors of efforts by conservative House Republicans to replace Gingrich have circulated for weeks, but Gingrich's top deputies -- who include Paxon, Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Conference Chairman John Boehner (R-Ohio) -- had denied conspiring against the speaker.

But Gingrich summoned his top deputies to his Capitol office late last night, and told them that he felt ill-served by their contact with GOP dissidents scheming to bring him down as speaker.


Sources close to the leadership say Gingrich went "nuclear" at the meeting with Armey, Boehner, DeLay and Paxon, saying the leadership should have told him sooner about plots to declare the speakership open.

Gingrich reportedly told this gathering he had information that Paxon approached other GOP members to build support for Gingrich's ouster. Paxon denied working against Gingrich but offered to resign. The New York Republican was told to vacate his leadership office in the Capitol immediately and give up his leadership staff. Paxon still retains his House seat.

In a letter to Gingrich, Paxon said, "I gave you my trust and my word but since both have been cast in doubt it is clear that I can no longer be an asset to your team in this appointed capacity."

For his part, Gingrich wrote to Paxon that he accepts "with regret your resignation." "Your work this year as chairman of the leadership has helped guide us forward on our agenda to balance the budget, save Medicare, and cut taxes. I know you will remain an important and valuable member of our conference," he continued.

More changes in the leadership ahead?

There has been some speculation Paxon's move would lead to resignations of other Gingrich deputies. But that may be unlikely. TIME's Jay Carney notes Armey, DeLay and Boehner hold elected posts, while Paxon was appointed by Gingrich and "only serves at the speaker's pleasure."

Paxon's resignation is a surprise, notes Carney. "As recently as a week ago, Paxon was a rising star and frequently mentioned as a possible replacement for Gingrich. He also was considered as very loyal to the speaker, almost like a sycophant. He was the most reliable Gingrich spokesman -- articulate, good on television, and the smiling, happy face of Republicanism in contrast to Gingrich," Carney said.

Plotting Gingrich's ouster

The closed-door effort by several disaffected House Republicans had been mounting, and some Republicans and conservative Democrats were asked support a vote on the House floor "to declare the speakership open."

The leadership, according to sources, got wind last Thursday of the dissidents' plan, and sent DeLay to meet with them.


Armey spoke to many of the dissidents Friday, and he and other Gingrich deputies made clear they were standing with Gingrich, according to sources.

Several dissidents suggest they were encouraged by leadership members, with several specifically mentioning DeLay, but aides to all four Gingrich deputies deny any such encouragement took place.

Gingrich has been plagued by questions about his effectiveness all year, but has mounted an impressive organizational campaign to keep his job.

From leadership to rank-and-file members, he has been actively coordinating a strategy to deal with the malcontents. A moderate Democrat in the House tells CNN that even he was approached by two of the speaker's emissaries last week for advice on how the speaker could keep his job.

"I told them this was a family fight and I didn't want to get involved," the Democrat said. "But I assured them that Democrats definitely have an interest in letting Newt stay on as speaker. Both moderate and liberal Democrats like having Newt as the contrast to us."

CNN's John King, CNNfn's Rebecca Cooper and TIME's Jay Carney contributed to this report.

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