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Livingston Attempts to Bridge Divisions in Republican Party

By Janet Hook
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

As House Republicans coalesced with dizzying speed behind Rep. Bob Livingston of Louisiana as their next speaker, he spent Monday reaching out to his adversaries and trying to start patching the deep wounds within his party.

Although Livingston now faces no competition in the race to succeed Newt Gingrich as speaker, he continued calling colleagues who had not yet come into his camp - including members of the California delegation who had been supporting the bid of Rep. Christopher Cox.

Livingston was all but anointed speaker Monday when Cox, the only announced or likely challenger, confirmed he was dropping out of the race.

In signs that the rough waters that have rocked the House in the last week are beginning to calm, Livingston not only won Cox's endorsement but received a congratulatory telephone call from House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., and had a conciliatory meeting Sunday with one of his most vociferous House GOP critics.

In a gesture toward burying the hatchet, Livingston was to appear Monday night with Gingrich at a meeting of the GOP's leading political action committee.

Still, the surprisingly easy consensus that formed around Livingston belied the great difficulty he faces in what is emerging as the most difficult job in Washington.

And while he may be more willing than Gingrich to reach across the aisle to build bipartisan coalitions, Democrats - tantalized by the prospect of winning a majority for themselves in 2000 - may not be in a cooperative mood.

"Congress is as governable as Bosnia," said Marshall Wittmann, director of governmental relations at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. "You have rival factions forming at every minute."

Cox's decision to drop his speakership bid cleared the field for Livingston when House Republicans meet Nov. 18 to elect their leaders for the new Congress. An effort to draft Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois has been abandoned, and no other candidates seem to be in the wings.