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Bob Livingston May Decide Today to Challenge House Republican Leaders

By Juliet Eilperin
and Guy Gugliotta
The Washington Post

Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., may decide as early as Friday to challenge Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., after counting votes of GOP colleagues disheartened by their diminished House majority, Republican members said Thursday.

As rank-and-file lawmakers directed more post-election recriminations at the House leadership, Rep. Steve Largent, R-Okla., was actively seeking to oust Majority Leader Richard K. Armey, R-Texas, and members said he has proposed working together with Livingston in an insurgent "slate." Republican sources said Livingston was reluctant to commit to the proposal.

Gingrich moved aggressively to shore up his own support, telephoning 30 colleagues Thursday and receiving public pledges of loyalty from both Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and Republican Conference Vice Chair Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash., Gingrich spokeswoman Christina Martin said.

But Conference Chairman John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, himself under attack from nearly a half-dozen aspirants and a potential candidate for the majority leader post, in a telephone conversation Wednesday told Gingrich he should consider stepping down, sources said.

Martin declined to characterize the two leaders' discussions. "I cannot discuss a private conversation between two members, particularly between two friends," she said.

Although Gingrich is fighting back, knowledgeable Republican sources said he was not secure enough to lobby on behalf of the rest of his team, particularly Armey, who has been a target of rank-and-file critics for months and could be especially vulnerable now.

During a day of rumors and speculation, at least a dozen Republicans from all factions tossed their hats in the ring or had them tossed in by others who demanded changes in leadership offices ranging from the speaker down to vice chair of the House GOP.

And if members could not agree on who would seek what, particularly in the lower levels, there appeared to be widespread agreement that some change was necessary after Democrats gained five House seats Tuesday in a stunning off-year rebuke to the Republican revolution that swept Gingrich to power in 1994.

Watts said he was urging colleagues to "keep your powder dry" until the House GOP organizational meeting Nov. 18, but some Republican sources said some members may demand that leadership elections be postponed.

From conversations with several members and party insiders, however, it was clear Thursday that the central figure in any leadership shuffle is Appropriations Committee Chairman Livingston, who abandoned plans to retire this year to be on hand to run for speaker because he was certain Gingrich would step down in 1999 to run for president.