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Cox to Drop Speaker Bid in Bow to Livingston

Politics: Newport Beach Republican will announce withdrawal today, clearing way for Louisianian to succeed Gingrich. Move will stop GOP blood-letting.

November 09, 1998|FAYE FIORE and ALISSA J. RUBIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) plans to announce today that he is withdrawing from the House speaker's race, clearing the field for Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.) to be elected to succeed Rep. Newt Gingrich by acclamation.

It was a dramatic twist in a fast-moving tale of congressional intrigue. Cox is withdrawing from the race as abruptly as he entered two days ago in an apparent move to stop the blood-letting in a party left reeling by Friday's sudden resignation of Gingrich.

"You have to make a subjective judgment based on trends," Cox said in an interview late Sunday. "This has turned into a foot race, and I can get votes as fast as Livingston can, but he started with a lead.

"While I've been reasonably successful at undoing some of his commitments, if you extrapolate this to a week it would get very hard and very bitter, and I don't wish that kind of contest. Our six-vote majority means we have to unify the conference."

With Rep. James M. Talent of Missouri announcing Sunday that he will not seek the post, Livingston, the Louisiana chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, is unopposed.

"It's over and it's Livingston's," one GOP source said.

Cox said 90 of the 223 House Republicans were either behind him or leaning toward him when Livingston paid a visit to Cox's office and said: "Let's find a way to end this without having to wait another 10 days."

Cox did the math and decided to instead work to hang on to the post he now holds as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, which is fourth in the House leadership and which he would have had to relinquish to run for speaker.

"He saw the writing on the wall. Even his own chairman wasn't behind him," one senior Republican aide said of Cox's decision, noting he did not have the support of Rep. James Bliley Jr. of Virginia, who heads the Commerce Committee of which Cox is a member.

Cox had been counting on the support of all or most of California's 24 Republicans, but one California source said he did not have even half, with Reps. Buck McKeon of Simi Valley and Ron Packard of Oceanside working for Livingston.

Just hours after Gingrich resigned Friday, Cox was on CNN's "Larry King Live" announcing his candidacy. He spent Sunday making the morning talk show circuit, insisting the race was still wide open.

But even as he solidified his lock on power, Livingston, who has been laying groundwork for a leadership race for more than a year, faces some of the same problems that drove Gingrich (R-Ga.) to quit the post.

Factions within the Republican Party disagree deeply about their policy priorities--torn between reducing the federal government's role or increasing regulation of such businesses as managed health care. And even as they endorsed Livingston, some GOP lawmakers expressed doubts about his leadership.

"Bob has got his problems like all of us do," Rep. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.), who is planning to support Livingston, said on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press."

"He [Livingston] needs to realize that this is not an appropriations job he's about to get into. It's a leadership job."

For his own part, Livingston was vague about his signature issues. And, while it is anathema to conservatives, he urged compromise over confrontation, arguing that ideological purity would be political suicide.

"With a margin of only six votes in this coming Congress, I've got to work with people who don't believe the same way I do," said Livingston on ABC-TV's "This Week," complaining about "sulking" voters who contributed to the GOP loss by staying home.

Livingston pitched himself mainly as a better manager--and chief train conductor--than the outgoing Gingrich, who left after the GOP lost seats in Tuesday's election. Livingston also touted his capacity to cut deals--a quality that makes GOP conservatives uneasy.

"I am running as a leader and as a manager," said Livingston on "This Week." "What we want to do under my speakership . . . is not only articulate the message but to provide the legislative machinery that it takes to back it up."

There is little doubt that the era ushered in by Gingrich of the speaker as philosopher king, party leader and national figure is on the wane. Republicans will vote Nov. 18 on their new speaker, with the full House to vote when the new Congress convenes in January.

"Newt Gingrich created a new kind of speakership," said William Connelly, a professor of politics at Washington and Lee University, who specializes in congressional Republican politics.

"It included the idea that the speaker plays both an inside and an outside game. The speaker has always played an inside game of managing details of legislative process, but Newt virtually single-handedly invented the notion of the bully pulpit of the speakership . . . he tried to govern the country from Congress."

But even if the speakership returns to its traditional place as primarily an insider's job, the party will still need a message. And the only item Livingston mentioned that is clearly on the conservative agenda is cutting taxes. Other possibilities--education and health care--create divisions within the Republican Party, as witnessed on Sunday talk shows that party leaders usually exploit to highlight unity.

"We need to get HMO reform. . . . We need to fight the federalization of your school system. We don't want--at least I don't want--the federal government building schoolhouses and paying teachers," said Graham.

Times staff writer Janet Hook contributed to this story.

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