House majority leader contemplating retirement

Tuesday, December 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas intends to announce his retirement in a speech on the House floor on Wednesday, and the powerful GOP whip, Rep. Tom DeLay is planning to run for his leadership post, Republican sources said Tuesday.

DeLay intends to launch ``an aggressive race,'' according to an associate, assuming that Armey, second-ranking House Republican during seven tumultuous years of GOP rule, goes ahead with his retirement announcement.

Apart from DeLay, R-Texas, Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., fourth-ranking member of the leadership, is considering seeking Armey's post, according to an aide.

Other names surfaced as potential contenders, including Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who is chief deputy whip, intends to seek DeLay's spot if DeLay runs for majority leader, according to one source. If DeLay decides to stay put, Blunt will consider a race for Armey's job, the source added.

Armey, a staunch Texas conservative, has apprised Speaker Dennis Hastert and other GOP colleagues of the possibility he won't seek a 10th term in the House in 2002, these sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The 61-year-old Armey has until Jan. 2 to file re-election papers in Texas, but several sources said his mind was virtually made up, and planned a speech on the House floor on Wednesday.

One source familiar with Armey's thinking said neither health nor political necessity was prompting Armey to consider an end to his congressional career. But given the legislative record of the last seven years and the presence of a Republican in the White House, Armey may decide the moment is right to depart, the source said.

Armey's spokesman declined comment on the congressman's possible plans.

An economics professor, Armey won his seat in the House in 1984 as a strong advocate of tax cuts and less government.

He displayed an ability to pass legislation even as a junior member of the minority party a few years later, when he was instrumental in a bill that led to the closing of unneeded military bases.

Armey was elected to the House GOP leadership in 1992.

In the post, he played a key role in development of the Contract With America, the conservative campaign manifesto that Republicans rode to power in 1994 midterm elections.

He was elected majority leader in the aftermath of the GOP victory, and helped push most elements of the legislative program through the House in the first 100 days of the session.

He has since won three more terms in his leadership post. He was challenged for his job as majority leader in 1998, because of questions of his involvement in a GOP bid the previous year to topple former Speaker Newt Gingrich.

As majority leader, Armey has pushed consistently for tax cuts, less federal spending, elimination of some federal agencies and reduced federal regulation of business.

He expressed unhappiness at Gingrich's decision to bring a minimum-wage increase to the House floor in 1996.

At the same time, his conservative views won the trust of members of the rank-and-file who relied on him to represent their interests.

Most recently, Hastert named Armey as one of two House GOP negotiators on economic stimulus legislation.

Armey used memorable language at times to make his point.

``Ain't no right way to do the wrong thing,'' he once told reporters asking about the minimum wage bill.

And his plainspoken style could cause controversy.

``Your president is just not that important to us,'' he told Democrats during debate on a 1994 crime bill, referring to Bill Clinton.