No clear front-runner for majority leader
Livingston and Gingrich meet to discuss transition
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, November 10 ) -- As House Speaker Newt Gingrich met with his all-but-certain successor, Louisiana Rep. Bob Livingston, Tuesday to work out the transition of power, the biggest Republican leadership fight remaining on Capitol Hill is over Majority Leader Dick Armey's fate.
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. But the competition for majority leader is not a beauty contest -- it's a fight for control and power.
The majority leader's supporters said Armey might emerge as soon as Wednesday to claim he has victory locked up. He got a boost Tuesday when California Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon announced he would not run, and endorsed Armey instead.
But Armey's vote count was disputed by Largent, a former professional football player still fond of sports analogies: "Well, it's the old head fake -- The play action pass where you pretend you're handing off and you're really not and, you know, I'm not falling for it."
Largent says his count shows Armey has less than 40 solid votes out of the 112 needed, and claims he has more than that himself. But some Hill watchers say Largent has hit a wall in the number of votes he can get, and consider Dunn the wildcard.
She's not giving out totals, but Dunn spent Tuesday walking the halls of Capitol Hill, working the phones, working the TV shows in search of votes from her colleagues. "I think we have a bright opportunity to rearrange the leadership of the House to pull someone in like me who understands teamwork, who can touch base with people," she said.
How do the candidates measure up?
The majority leader struggle is mostly a fight over style: Dunn and Largent are more telegenic than Armey and insist they can better articulate the party's message.
On substance, Dunn is a bit less conservative on some issues. Armey and Largent voted against public funding for abortions in the District of Columbia while Dunn voted for the measure.
And on cutting the federal gas tax, forcing states to fund their own roads, Armey and Largent were for, Dunn was against.
Largent is the most fiercely conservative -- one of only 17 who voted to keep the federal government closed after a three-week shutdown in 1996. But all three are pro-business, anti-tax conservatives.
There's no contest for the No. 3 spot. The hard-liner Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Texas remains unchallenged.
In the fourth spot, Republican conference chairman John Boehner of Ohio faces a challenge from yet another Oklahoman and ex-footballer, J.C. Watts, who is also a conservative.
Livingston: No. 1 priority will be Social Security
Barring surprises, Livingston will lead the House next year as he appeared to cement his lead for the job after Rep. Christopher Cox (R-California) announced Monday he was dropping out of the race.
Livingston also received Gingrich's blessing, who said he had no hard feelings after his old friend challenged his post last week even before the speaker had decided to step down. The two met late Tuesday to begin the transition discussions.
Borrowing a page from President Bill Clinton's book, Livingston said in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer for "Late Edition Primetime," that his first priority in the 106th Congress would be saving Social Security and cutting taxes would be second.
The Louisiana Republican is considered more reserved, polished and predictable than Gingrich but just as conservative. Livingston says he's a pragmatic conservative and knows he has to work with Democrats.
"I am about as conservative as any one of those critics. But I also know that being simply conservative and making grand speeches doesn't do any good if you can't get the bills through the House and through the Senate and on the president's desk for him to sign or veto," Livingston said.
"People are going to say I'm boring," he continued. "People are going to say I don't give a great speech. I'll agree to all that. Fine. But I do work hard and I want to replace the flamboyance with a little bit of hard, sleeves-rolled-up perspiration."
CNN's Brooks Jackson and Wolf Blitzer contributed to this report.
Tuesday, November 10, 1998
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