House Republicans re-elected their leadership team in voting marked by the deep divisions and frustrations that come from being the minority party for more than three decades.
House Minority Leader Robert Michel of Illinois and Whip Newt Gingrich of Georgia were re-elected to the No. 1 and No. 2 jobs without opposition when the 167 Republicans assembled in the cavernous Cannon Caucus Room. The terms last two years.Then, in a toughly fought contest for Republican Conference chairman, the No. 3 leadership post, incumbent Jerry Lewis of California defeated challenger Carl Pursell of Michigan, 98-64.
And in a bitter contest for chairman of the party's House campaign arm, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Guy Vander Jagt of Michigan survived a challenge by Rep. Don Sundquist of Tennessee. The vote totals were not announced immediately.
It has been 36 years since any Republican in the House of Representatives could call a hearing to order, preside over the chamber, or take primary credit for a piece of legislation.
House Republicans suffered an additional indignity and stepped up their renewed infighting when their already small numbers were reduced further by last month's elections.
"There is a big feeling that we just have to get a broom in there and sweep the place out," said one six-term Republican, speaking only on condition of anonymity. "But there are others who feel a bloodletting is not what we need."
The two hotly fought contests are symptoms of "the same mood which gripped the electorate (in this year's campaign) - throw the rascals out," said another senior GOP lawmaker. Few Republicans wanted to be interviewed on the subject, and those who did insisted on anonymity.
Both contests also pointed out a deeper division within the party, one that splits House Republicans from the White House. When Bush wants to win a fight on Capitol Hill, he most often goes to the Senate, where the numbers are less stacked against him.
"They see themselves manipulated and taken advantage of by their own White House, and condescended to by the Democrats," said Norman Ornstein, a longtime Congress-watcher at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank.
The split with the White House widened in the year's battles over the federal budget. Many House Republicans felt left in the lurch by Bush when he abandoned the no-new-taxes pledge that helped elect him in 1988.
Gingrich led a group of renegade House Republicans against the president. The congressional committee's chief political operative, Ed Rollins, advised candidates to run against Bush's budget. Lewis stuck with the White House, but Pursell did not.
Those familiar with the Byzantine world of House party politics say White House anger over that move along with a number of rivalries were at work in Monday's contests.
Others pointed to the relatively poor performance of Vander Jagt's committee over the past decade.