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Some GOP Leaders Are Relegated to the Sidelines

Congress: Barr, Armey and DeLay are making their presence felt offstage.


PHILADELPHIA — Flashbulbs popped as if a celebrity had arrived. But the stir wasn't sparked by Colin L. Powell, Elizabeth Hanford Dole or any of the other featured speakers at the Republican National Convention.

The star at this GOP reception was Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia, hero of the conservative movement, friend of the National Rifle Assn., point man in the GOP drive to impeach President Clinton.

Barr has no prominent role at this week's convention. Nor do a host of his congressional colleagues, including House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) and House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

But the enthusiastic reception Barr received was a reminder that, despite George W. Bush's effort to focus attention on his image as a "different kind of Republican," there are plenty of the old-fashioned kind swirling around--largely out of camera's view.

"We are the heart and soul of the right-wing conspiracy!" Floyd Brown, a conservative author who co-sponsored the reception for Barr, said with both humor and pride.

While Barr, Armey, DeLay and other party mainstays may not be talking to the public through the convention program, they are busy talking with each other--strategizing on how to maintain the GOP's control of Congress, plotting to advance their own careers, urging each other to keep the conservative faith. And what they are saying is not always in sync with Bush's plan to keep the convention's tone far removed from the slash-and-burn image once associated with congressional GOP leaders.

Just listen to the soothing tones of one delegate at the reception for Barr: "Sic 'em, Bob!"

It's hardly unprecedented for members of Congress to be overshadowed at national conventions. The gatherings are controlled by and for the benefit of the party's presidential candidate. But the low profile of congressional Republicans at this year's convention has been especially notable. And they are accepting their place on the sidelines largely without complaint.

Armey, the GOP's No. 2 House leader, is busy making the rounds of convention delegations, giving partisan pep talks to the party's conservative core.

"He's a rally-the-base guy," said Michele Davis, Armey's spokeswoman. "He knows his strength."

One of Armey's rare public appearances came Tuesday night, when he spoke about a topic that is a favorite of unreconstructed, anti-government Republicans: his campaign to scrap the tax code and replace it with a flat tax.

DeLay is keeping an even lower profile, shunning events open to the media. "He's just relaxing," said Tony Rudy, a top aide.

But he is doing plenty for his fellow House Republicans. DeLay has arranged for a fleet of cars and drivers to be at the disposal of every member of Congress, offering them free transportation 24 hours a day. He has lined up a refurbished Union Pacific train car, put it on tracks not far from the convention site and turned it into a round-the-clock cloakroom fully stocked with food and drink.

He also hosted a golf tournament for lawmakers and lobbyists. And Tuesday night he threw a bash with the band Blues Traveler as the entertainment. His political action committee--and lobbyists who contributed to it--paid for it.

It's vintage DeLay. In Washington, he is known for his assiduous "constituent service" for colleagues: helping them meet donors, getting their hometown projects funded. His Capitol office often serves up dinner and cigars when the House is in late-night session.

And while the official convention program has been quiet about the GOP's drive to impeach Clinton, others have been toasting the icons of that effort. On Wednesday, National Review magazine held a reception honoring the impresario of impeachment, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.).

The earlier reception for Barr--and for Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), who led House investigations of other actions of the Clinton administration--was staged, co-sponsor Brown said, because "nobody was doing anything to honor two of the most important members of the party."

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