WASHINGTON – Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, is leading a movement to draft House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde for Speaker of the House with Hyde’s blessing.
Bartlett said he and Rep. Nick Smith, R-Mich., independently called Hyde on Friday morning asking him to run. The Illinois Republican has said he would run if there was enough support, but is too busy with pending impeachment hearings to mount a campaign himself.
“Henry Hyde is a giant in the Congress, he is the best statesman, the most eloquent speaker, respected by both the right and the left,” said Bartlett.
“I have talked to a number of members who did not think Henry Hyde was going to run. I think he has broad support,” he said.
Bartlett’s announcement came before news reports last night that House Speaker Newt Gingrich planned to resign from Congress, in the wake of the party’s disappointing performance in this week’s elections.
The GOP lost five seats in the House and two key Senate races, sparking calls from a rebellious rank and file for the ouster of the Republican leadership.
Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., declared earlier Friday that he would seek the speakership and Rep. Steve Largent, R-Okla., said he would challenge House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas.
Both made their announcement on television news conferences in the morning. The announcement from Bartlett and Smith that they were backing Hyde came late Friday afternoon.
Bartlett could not be reached for comment on his plans after the news about Gingrich, R-Ga., broke Friday night. Smith’s office referred calls on the matter to Bartlett’s office.
“Certainly Newt deserves a lot of credit for 1994 [when the GOP took control of the House], but somehow that initial brilliance has stalled,” Bartlett said earlier Friday.
“I’m very fond of Newt, he’s a great friend. Now, this is bigger than friendship, it’s time for a change, or at least time to talk about a change,” he said.
Bartlett said he would not be surprised if more Republicans toss their hats in the ring for the speakership. But that is not a sign that the Republican Party is self-destructing, said Bartlett, adding that he does “not think this will be a divisive thing.”
“We all want the same thing, the strongest party we can have, and the strongest leadership we can have,” he said.
Bartlett said he has already started actively campaigning for Hyde, but he would not speculate on how many Republicans would support him.
Other Maryland Republicans have not made any firm decisions on the next speaker, aides said before the Gingrich news broke.
Rep. Constance Morella, R-Bethesda, “certainly will be talking to other members, moderates like herself,” said Mary Anne Leary, a spokeswoman for Morella.
“I know she thinks very highly of Chairman Hyde,” Leary said. “At this point she will take time to talk to other members. I think she’ll welcome a change, but we’ll have to see.”
Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-Timonium, has not decided who he will support, said Scott Kreseski, his chief of staff.
“He is not beholden to Newt, Hyde or Livingston, they’re all attractive, none of them are flawed,” said Kreseski.
He said Gingrich “is being unfairly singled out” for Election Day losses, but noted that leaders in the corporate world and other areas often take the blame for poor performance.
The only other Republican in the Maryland delegation, Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, was unavailable for comment Friday. — Capital News Service reporter Tracy L. Fercho contributed to this report.