Republicans Ponder Ouster of Gingrich: Watts Considers Challenging Armey

By Roman, Nancy E. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 6, 1998 | Go to article overview

Republicans Ponder Ouster of Gingrich: Watts Considers Challenging Armey


Roman, Nancy E., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


House Speaker Newt Gingrich stayed home in Georgia yesterday, trying to shore up his job one phone conversation at a time as Republicans of all stripes contemplated openly whether and how to overthrow him.

"It's Bob Livingston's challenge if he wants it," said Rep. Mark Souder, Indiana Republican who has been talking to members about possibly toppling all leaders. He said if Mr. Livingston declines, someone else will step up to challenge Mr. Gingrich, with whom many in the conference have lost patience since the party's stunning setback in Tuesday's elections.

Mr. Livingston, Louisiana Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, was still talking to members yesterday and could announce his decision as early as today.

Meanwhile, Rep. J.C. Watts, Oklahoma Republican and the party's only black in Congress, said he may challenge Rep. Dick Armey of Texas for majority leader or Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio for chairman of the conference.

"I have been as supportive of leadership and of the team as anybody in the conference. However, when things like this happen I think you need to look at everybody from the CEO to the janitor," he said.

Mr. Watts said he has received "numerous calls within the past 24 hours" urging him to run for the leadership.

"I'm as serious this time about taking a look at it as I've ever been," he said.

He said the GOP leadership missed a big opportunity to champion tax cuts, did a "pathetic" job of reaching out to minorities and overall had a poor communications strategy. Democratic gains on Tuesday were credited in large part to energized minority voters.

"I don't put that at the feet of one person," Mr. Watts said. "But I think we all need a self-evaluation."

Mr. Watts said discontent is much higher than it was during last summer's "half-cocked coup" attempt on Mr. Gingrich, which he did not support. The former Oklahoma University football star likened the Republican conference to a football team beaten 177-0. The coach, he said, takes the team aside and says: "We've gotten kicked so good it's time to go back to the basics: Guys, this is a football."

Members - most of whom are in their districts across the country - spent hours on telephone conference hookups, one-on-one calls and flights in and out of Washington for brief meetings.

"The big question is can we tweak things here or there," said one member, "or do we need Gingrich's head. And if we need that head, can we get it?"

One change almost sure to come is chairmanship of the National Republican Campaign Committee, headed by Rep. John Linder, Georgia Republican and a personal friend of Mr. Gingrich.

Several leadership sources and rank-and-file members said they like Mr. Linder personally and do not hold him responsible for Tuesday's loss of five House seats. But they said as head of the committee that recruited and funded the GOP candidates, he would be a logical scapegoat.

"All the leadership has been somehow weakened," Mr. …

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