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Effort To Oust Gingrich Casts Dark Cloud On Gop Air Of Conspiracy, Backstabbing Reflect Conservative Discontent

Knight-Ridder

House Speaker Newt Gingrich escaped a planned coup last week, in a flurry of backroom intrigue that raises new doubts about the speaker’s future and the loyalty of his inner circle.

“This was, I think, the most serious effort yet to get Gingrich to resign,” said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who rebuffed an invitation to join the conspirators. “Everything the leadership does or doesn’t do alienates more people who weren’t alienated before.”

On July 9, lawmakers involved in the behind-the-scenes machinations offered conflicting accounts. But everyone agreed that the rebellion peaked late Thursday night, when GOP Whip Tom DeLay of Texas met with a core group of anti-Gingrich conspirators.

DeLay, the No. 3 Republican in the House, left the session convinced that conservative discontent with the speaker had reached a dangerous level. Some of the dissidents who sought DeLay’s overt support confided to him that they wanted to force a vote on Gingrich’s fate before the House recessed for the weekend.

DeLay immediately reported his findings to the speaker’s top advisers - Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, Rep. Bill Paxon of New York and Rep. Dennis Hastert of Illinois.

Some conspirators interpreted Armey’s actions as an indication that he was willing to join the coup, but those hopes were dashed on Friday, when Armey and the other leaders revealed the plot to Gingrich. Davis said Armey spent most of the rest of the day persuading the conspirators to back off.

Christina Martin, Gingrich’s spokeswoman, said the speaker remains confident in the loyalty of his inner circle and most rank-and-file Republicans.

“This is basically a congressional soap opera that continues to play on a regular basis,” she said of the planned coup. “We always have the same story, and it always has the same happy ending.”

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