GOP Leaders Fume at Armey

Posted February 20, 2004 at 6:02pm

When Dick Armey was House Majority Leader, he was known for saying whatever was on his mind. In the 13 months since he left Congress, the Texas Republican’s outspokenness has continued to draw attention and, increasingly, the wrath of his former colleagues in the GOP leadership.

Armey, who now splits his time between the conservative group Citizens for a Sound Economy and the law and lobbying firm Piper Rudnick, has in recent months loudly criticized the current House GOP majority for its alleged free-spending ways.

Armey’s comments have angered Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and other top Republicans, prompting some of them to look for ways to retaliate or, at the very least, portray him as a hypocrite.

“We have started looking very hard at all of Piper Rudnick’s earmarks,” said a House Republican leadership aide.

As a senior policy adviser at Piper Rudnick, Armey leads the firm’s Homeland Security team. According to the company’s Web site, he helps to “counsel clients on emerging issues, obligations, and opportunities in the area” of Homeland Security.

In an interview, Armey said he did not see any conflict between his position with the fiscally conservative CSE and his work for Piper Rudnick, explaining that his advice to clients would simply help them compete for a share of existing federal spending rather than adding to the overall total.

“Money is going to be spent. There are going to be appropriations,” Armey said.

Beyond whether they believe he is a hypocrite, House Republican lawmakers and aides are more frustrated with what they perceive to be Armey’s disloyalty to the cause and his proclivity for criticizing them at politically inopportune times.

“When you’re on the outside, you can go two ways — you can write a book and be a troublemaker or you can be a team player. He’s been a troublemaker,” complained a GOP leadership aide.

For his part, Armey believes that he has simply been fulfilling his competing responsibilities.

“I think I have two roles that cause me to speak up,” Armey explained.

The first role is as co-chairman of CSE, which is influential in conservative circles as a spending watchdog.

“My other role that causes me to speak up is as a cheerleader for this majority,” Armey said, arguing that House Republicans will be stronger in the long run if they stay true to their conservative principles, particularly on fiscal discipline.

“I’m sitting here, and I’m upset about the deficit, and I’m upset about spending,” Armey told The Wall Street Journal on Jan. 30. “There’s no way I can pin that on the Democrats. Republicans own the town now.”

That quote made its way into Minority Whip Steny Hoyer’s (D-Md.) Feb. 3 floor statement on President Bush’s budget proposal. Hoyer also attached it to that day’s Democratic whip notice.

The next day, Hoyer and DeLay had a brief verbal sparring match on the House floor over the issue of extending unemployment benefits, during which Hoyer pointedly invoked Armey’s comment that Republicans “own the town.”

According to Members and aides, DeLay later complained privately to his colleagues about Armey’s having provided grist for the Democratic mill.

Armey said word had gotten back to him about DeLay’s comments and that he wasn’t surprised by them.

“Tom had just been embarrassed on the floor by Steny Hoyer,” Armey said, adding that he actually caught the DeLay-Hoyer exchange on C-SPAN.

The Wall Street Journal also played a role in a previous Armey controversy. On Nov. 21, the day the Republican-backed Medicare prescription drug measure was set to hit the floor, Armey published a scathing op-ed in the WSJ titled “Say ‘No’ to the Medicare Bill.”

The piece enraged GOP leaders, who were already having enough trouble corralling conservative support before Armey weighed in. Republican votecounters later admitted that Armey’s op-ed played a significant role in their having to hold the Medicare vote open for three hours before finally securing passage.

“I have one regret on that,” Armey said of the Medicare article. “I should have called the Speaker before I wrote the editorial.”

Even if Hastert hadn’t dissuaded Armey from publishing the piece, a pre-emptive phone call from the former Majority Leader would at least have prevented Republican whip staffers from feeling blindsided by it. Hastert himself was described as particularly angry after its publication.

Following the Medicare vote, Armey said he called Hastert and apologized for not warning him.

But Armey did not apologize for the content of the piece, which he saw as a necessary antidote to an earlier WSJ article in favor of the Medicare bill written by ex-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).

Armey said he believed conservative lawmakers who were inclined to vote against the measure were feeling demoralized by incessant pressure from the leadership.

“I felt that a word of encouragement would help,” he said.