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Gingrich, Gephardt Downplay the Need for White House Shake-Up

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Bush Administration is experiencing “one of the rough periods” but a shake-up in the White House staff would be unnecessary and unwise, House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said Sunday.

Gingrich, a leader among young conservatives in Congress, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that President Bush “will dominate” next year’s Republican convention and that potential rival candidates Patrick J. Buchanan and David Duke would only be “biting at his heels.”

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that it is up to the President to provide leadership on domestic issues and that any White House shake-up resulting in the removal of Chief of Staff John H. Sununu would be irrelevant.

“I don’t think there’s a staff problem; I think the President has to lead,” Gephardt said, referring to reports that Bush might replace Sununu at the urging of some advisers and Republicans in Congress.

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“I don’t think John Sununu is a problem for the President,” Gingrich said. “I think he is a very effective, very aggressive and very smart man who correctly represents the conservative part of the President’s agenda.”

Asked about Bush’s drop in public opinion polls, he said: “There’s no question that this is one of the rough periods in the Bush presidency.” But he expressed confidence that the President will rebound in the polls.

“If I were betting, I would bet that by late next summer, George Bush will be a very formidable candidate,” Gingrich said. “He will dominate the convention.”

As for possible GOP candidates Buchanan and Duke, neither of whom has yet announced plans to run, he said: “I think that he’s going to have these two guys biting at his heels. . . . They’re not going to have any significant impact.”

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He referred to Duke, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan who was defeated in his race for Louisiana governor, as “despicable.” Buchanan, a conservative columnist and television host, “may get as high as 40% or 45% in New Hampshire” if he runs in that primary, Gingrich said.

Attacking his political opponents, Gingrich deplored what he called “a very left-of-center Democratic Party in control of the House and Senate, who consistently undermine the President.”

Smarting from defeat of a Republican-sponsored tax plan in the closing hours of Congress, he said the Democrats’ “entire strategy in economic growth is going to be to only pass bills the President will veto.”

Observing that “a lot of our current problems come from a deadlock in this city--a Capitol Hill that’s Democratic and a White House that’s Republican,” Gingrich said that voters should decide next year which party to put in control of both Congress and the White House.

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But Gephardt insisted that Democrats are willing to work with Bush.

“If the President wants us to do it in December and wants to call us back or have us come and put a plan together, we are more than willing to sit down with the President and try to work out a long-range program,” Gephardt said.

But Gephardt added that any economic recovery plan “has got to be focused on middle-income Americans.”


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