- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 13, 2001

House Majority Leader Dick Armey announced his retirement yesterday in an emotional speech, clearing the way for his son to run for his congressional seat in Texas.

"In my time here, we have managed to secure many blessings of liberty," Mr. Armey told colleagues on the House floor. "Peace through strength and supply-side economics changed the world for the better."

Mr. Armey, the only Republican House majority leader since 1954, fought back tears as he said he would retire at the end of his term of office next year to spend more time with his family. One of those family members, Mr. Armey's 32-year-old son, Scott, is expected to declare his candidacy soon for the open congressional seat near Dallas.

"He looks like a step up for us," a smiling Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said of the younger Mr. Armey. "I'm sure he is" going to run.

Meanwhile, some Republicans are seeking an alternative to Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas in the race for the new majority leader.

"We need someone who can go on national TV and present a good, positive image of the Republican Party and not a mean-spirited image," said Rep. Curt Weldon, Pennsylvania Republican. "We need someone who can bring people together and not polarize. I don't think [Mr. DeLay] represents the broad cross-section of the conference."

But many Republicans, such as Rep. Christopher B. Cannon of Utah, pledged their support for Mr. DeLay.

"He is smart and smooth and capable," Mr. Cannon said. "Though much maligned by the press, Tom DeLay is a wonderful human being. The liberal media has made him out as a much harsher character than he is."

Rep. Ray LaHood, a close ally of Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, a fellow Illinoisan, said several Republicans have approached him about running for majority leader. Mr. LaHood said he is considering a bid for either majority leader or majority whip.

"Tom [DeLay] relishes the idea of being called the 'Hammer,'" Mr. LaHood said. "I'd rather be called the 'Velvet Glove.' There would be distinctions."

But he acknowledged that his candidacy would be a long shot against Mr. DeLay and his loyal whip operation with 67 deputies.

"If I decided to do it, I'd certainly be the underdog," Mr. LaHood said. "He'll have a lot of money, and he'll pull out all the stops."

Mr. DeLay refused to talk with reporters about his candidacy yesterday, but he had been busy lining up supporters. Some of his associates said he won the race before it started.

"It's almost a fait accompli," said Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican. "I think he's going to win the race much like he's won so many other tight battles through hard work, persistence and friendship. He's got a deep well of support because he's always there for us."

Some Republicans said they worried that raising the profile of the conservative Mr. DeLay would give Democrats an easier target with which to demonize the party. Many Democrats agreed.

"We certainly are looking forward to dealing with Mr. DeLay in an elevated position," said a giggling Rep. Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat. "He is so partisan, it will be even more contentious than it presently is."

Mr. Hastert, a former deputy in Mr. DeLay's whip operation, was trying not to take sides publicly. Asked if he supported Mr. DeLay for majority leader, the speaker replied, "We'll see what happens here. Tom DeLay is a good friend of mine. But we need to let the conference work its will."

The formal election of a majority leader will not happen until the next Congress is seated, in January 2003.

In his retirement speech, Mr. Armey, 61, said the House during his tenure "set a course of economic prosperity and growth unparalleled in the history of the world."

But the nine-term lawmaker said "too often, our service to our nation is a disservice to our family." He choked back tears as he thanked his wife, Susan, seated in the spectator's gallery, "for her years of sacrifice."

The majority leader's son Scott is the county judge in Denton County, Texas, the municipality's top political job. Mr. Davis said the majority leader told him on the House floor yesterday that the Republicans would be "trading up" by electing his son to Congress.

Mark Nevins, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Democrats do not expect to field a candidate in the overwhelmingly Republican district.

"The only question in Texas' 26th District is how far to the right the acorn will fall from the tree," Mr. Nevins said.

As Mr. Armey spoke on the House floor yesterday, more than half of the chamber's Democrats stayed away. Mr. Armey thanked Democrats for being "constant, consistent and reliable." His audience erupted in laughter.

Mr. Armey told his Republican colleagues to be proud of cutting taxes twice in eight years, for reforming welfare and exerting "spending restraint."

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