- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 12, 2001

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay is laying rapid plans to become the next majority leader, anticipating an expected retirement announcement today by Dick Armey.
Mr. DeLay is eager for a new challenge and is anxious to bring his powerful "DeLay Inc." political network to the second-ranking post in the House, associates said.
"DeLay doesn't do anything halfway," a source close to the Texas Republican said. "He refuses to lose."
Mr. Armey, a conservative Texan who has controlled the floor agenda since the Republican takeover in 1994, plans to inform colleagues of his retirement this morning, effective at the end of next year. But a source close to Mr. Armey cautioned that many Republicans were beseeching him yesterday to reconsider.
Friends and staff of Mr. Armey say the 61-year-old former economics professor feels he has nothing left to prove in Congress and wants to spend more time with his family.
"Dick Armey's had a brilliant career," said Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, who also is retiring next year. "He's as close to being an indispensable man in the House as there could be."
The majority leader himself would not discuss his plans yesterday, saying only that he will make a speech on the House floor this morning.
"I know there are some rumors concerning me," he said at a news conference yesterday. "I flatter myself with the belief you may be interested. I will talk about that tomorrow."
The anticipated retirement of Mr. Armey set off behind-the-scenes maneuvering yesterday to replace him as majority leader, even though the election would not take place until next November.
The leading contender is Mr. DeLay, the No. 3 Republican in the House, who aides say is looking for a new challenge after forging his whip's operation into a vaunted political force.
Serving as the main House Republican link to K Street lobbyists and as the man who builds coalitions to enact the Bush administration's agenda, Mr. DeLay has built a cadre of loyal troops. He has earned a reputation as an iron-fisted disciplinarian who wins tough votes in the closely divided House, including a one-vote victory last week on a bill to give President Bush "fast-track" trade authority.
"He'll make [the majority leader] job what he did with the whip job," a DeLay associate said. "He's synonymous with power in Washington."
Others who might challenge Mr. DeLay include Rep. Rob Portman of Ohio, who has worked closely with the administration; Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee; Rep. Christopher Cox of California; Rep. David Dreier of California, chairman of the House Rules Committee; Rep. Jennifer Dunn of Washington; and Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Republican conference.
Still to be determined is whether the top House Republican, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, would support Mr. DeLay as his second-in-command.
"That's the big question mark," a House Republican leadership aide said.
Mr. Hastert served as chief deputy whip to Mr. DeLay before being elected speaker three years ago.
The positioning to become the next majority leader also touched off speculation about who would succeed Mr. DeLay as whip, the party's chief vote-counter. A leading contender is Rep. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican and chief deputy whip to Mr. DeLay. He has served this year as an influential liaison to the White House.
All these moves, however, are contingent upon Republicans retaining their majority in next year's congressional elections. Republicans currently hold a 10-seat advantage, 221-211, with two independents and one vacancy.
Mr. Armey is credited with building and holding that majority during the past eight years. In a congressional career spanning 17 years, Mr. Armey has been a leading voice on such conservative issues as welfare reform, school vouchers for inner-city students, scrutiny of the International Monetary Fund, tax cuts and a simplified tax code.
The wise-cracking, country-music-quoting Mr. Armey has provided lively copy for reporters over the years, once referring to a circle around Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, as her "Marxist" friends.
On another occasion, in talking with reporters about the ins and outs of a minimum-wage bill that he opposed, Mr. Armey said, "Ain't no right way to do the wrong thing."
An Armey associate said the majority leader has no plans to run for Mr. Gramm's Senate seat.
Others said it is a rarity in Congress in recent years for a party leader to bow out on his own terms, pointing to the resignations of former Speakers Newt Gingrich and Jim Wright, as well as party leaders such as former Reps. Tony Coelho and Robert Livingston.
"Very few people get to go out on top," a source close to Mr. Armey said. "You really have to go all the way back to Tip O'Neill," the former Democratic speaker who retired in 1986.
Mr. Wright resigned from the House and stepped down as speaker in 1989 rather than fight the 69 ethics charges leveled against him. That same year, Mr. Coelho resigned from the House and his majority whip post rather than face a possible ethics investigation into financial dealings involving a junk bond purchase.
Mr. Gingrich resigned the speakership in the wake of Republican losses in the 1998 congressional elections. He resigned from Congress outright in 1999. Mr. Livingston was set to replace the Georgian as speaker, but announced his resignation in December 1998 after the disclosure of an extramarital affair.
Mr. Gramm said Mr. Armey was instrumental in forging the 1994 Contract With America, "which was the intellectual force behind electing a Republican majority."
"He provided the key leadership on such issues as welfare reform and tax cuts," Mr. Gramm said. "He's been a tireless advocate for less government and more freedom."
Audrey Hudson contributed to this report.

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