Friday, July 16, 2004

More than half the Republicans in the House have signed a formal complaint to President Bush about the failure to give prominent conservative, pro-life party members even one prime-time speaking role at the Republican National Convention.

A letter signed by 127 of the 227 House Republicans, including the chairmen of several powerful committees, urges Mr. Bush to add Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican and longtime abortion foe, to what is a mostly pro-choice cast of speakers at the Aug. 30-Sept. 2 convention in New York.

“Henry’s name has been synonymous with the pro-life movement for the last 30 years,” said Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, who wrote the letter and collected signatures. “When he is introduced at the convention, it is going to be like Elvis at Memphis.”

Mr. Pence, who was still circulating copies of his letter among members late yesterday, said, “Pro-lifers are to the Republican National Convention what members of the teachers’ unions are to the Democratic convention — they’re just about everybody there.”

The signers of his letter include such powerful names among House Republicans as Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young of Florida, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe L. Barton of Texas, and Select Homeland Security Committee Chairman Christopher Cox of California.

The pre-convention rebellion by so many conservative House members is driven by re-election concerns and frustration over policy differences with the White House in the past 31/2 years, Capitol Hill Republicans said privately.

Public revolt is the last thing the Bush campaign wants to see, after the Senate Republican leaders failed Wednesday to get even 50 votes to back a constitutional amendment against homosexual “marriages.”

Last month, Republican convention planners announced a prime-time speakers’ list, which was approved by chief Bush strategist Karl Rove.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, New York Gov. George E. Pataki, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani — all of whom are pro-choice — are lined up for evening speeches.

Among three other prime-time speakers, Sen. John McCain of Arizona is a fiscal conservative with a pro-life voting record. But he publicly ran against religious conservatives in the 2000 primaries, frequently clashes with party leaders, and opposes such religious conservative touchstones as the marriage amendment.

Secretary of Education Rod Paige is little known outside of his home state of Texas. Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia is strongly pro-life, but he is a Democrat.

“The most conservative speaker right now is John McCain, who is truly a fiscal conservative. But a lot of conservatives believe the conservative movement that got us here is being ignored at the convention,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican.

Concern for the lack of diversity in the convention lineup went beyond the pro-life conservatives in the House.

“I would be very proud if Henry Hyde were to speak,” said Rep. Jim Leach, Iowa Republican, who is pro-choice. “He would reflect the sentiment of an awful lot of Americans, and he is a first-class leader.”

Mr. Pence said signers of his letter agreed that “millions of voters will be tuning into the convention to hear someone give voice to the traditional moral values that brought them to the Republican Party in 1980.”

“The strength of the Republican majority in America is not in the California governor’s office or in the moderate politics of George Pataki,” Mr. Pence said. “It’s in the millions of pro-family voters who will campaign for our candidates and turn out on Election Day.”

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