Bob Livingston's house A moderate? Next speaker must seek unity within GOP, find common ground with Democrats.

November 11, 1998

WHAT WILL the country get in Bob Livingston as successor to Newt Gingrich?

He was a protege of Mr. Gingrich, who chose Mr. Livingston over more senior Republicans to head a major committee and this year urged him to run again.

The Louisiana Republican describes himself as a manager rather than an ideologue. He has brokered compromises and reached out to Democrats on occasion. He is more comfortable behind the scenes than out front.

But as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Mr. Livingston has at times led with his hot temper, instead of his head, including a near fistfight three years ago with fellow Republican Pat Roberts, a Kansas senator.

When he became appropriations chairman in 1995, Mr. Livingston brandished an alligator-skinning knife and a machete as tools he would use on the budget.

And there was his speech on the House floor during the debate on extending the government shutdown over the Christmas holidays in 1995. "We will never, never give in. We will stay here until doomsday," he railed.

That was then. Perhaps he is the one to lead congressional Republicans at this time. But he would become speaker of the House, of House Democrats, of all Americans, not just of Republicans. We know the job isn't nonpartisan, especially when one recalls the likes of Sam Rayburn, Tip O'Neill, Jim Wright and Joe Martin.

Still, it is going to take the best of Bob Livingston, the manager and the moderate, to lead the party out of a mess of its own creation. Republicans must determine which wing of the party ++ will lead. Last week's elections were a vote against extremes.

Americans may want slimmed-down government, but they want government.

Mr. Livingston must unite his party. He could start by using his negotiating skills to help bring the impeachment proceedings to a quick conclusion.

Then he has to do what he's done in the past -- get along with Democrats, if Republican leadership is to truly govern the first session of the 106th Congress.

Pub date 11/11/98

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