Washington Prowler

Pryce Is Right

The woman to succeed where J.C. Watts failed. Also: Did President Bush avoid Cardinal Law?

By 7.12.02

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THE MODERATE INSIDER
Look for current House Republican Conference Vice Chair Deborah Pryce of Ohio to quickly attempt to lock up chairmanship of the conference with the announced retirement of Rep. J.C. Watts. Pryce previously had served as the Conference secretary. Prior to leaving for the July 4th recess, Pryce spoke briefly with House Speaker Dennis Hastert and House Republican Whip Tom DeLay about her candidacy, and according to several leadership aides, received positive feedback from both leaders. "There are others who might challenge her," says a House leadership aide. "But both men were upbeat about her candidacy. They encouraged it."

Rep. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona has stated that he, too, will run for the party conference chairmanship, and is said to have lined up votes among conservatives in particular. He was expected to make a big push as colleagues returned to town from the recess.

The only other Republican thought to have a serious chance of challenging Pryce is Texas's Rep.Henry Bonilla, but he has not announced whether he will seek the post. Should Pryce lock up the votes for the chairmanship, Bonilla might consider running for the vice chair seat.

Pryce, a moderate, is thought to have the advantage over just about anyone who might challenge her, if only because of her position as highest ranking woman in the House Republican leadership. While Rep. Jennifer Dunn might get more face time on television, Pryce has slowly and carefully accumulated political capital in the House's smoky backrooms, where she has cultivated friendships and alliances with both Hastert and DeLay.

Those two leaders, on an ideological level, would perhaps feel more comfortable with Hayworth in the chair's seat. But with the loss of Watts as the only "diverse" voice in the leadership, and facing the very real possibility of having to square off against a female Democratic House leader in Nancy Pelosi, should Dick Gephardt step aside as many expect next November or December, the white men of the Republican leadership will need to mix things up a bit for voters and the GOP caucus. The elevation of Pryce and election of Bonilla to vice chair would go a long way toward doing that.

BUSH AND CATHOLIC LAW
Despite the Washington Post's take that President Bush backed out of speaking to the Catholic Charities USA conference next month in Chicago because Boston's embattled cardinal, Bernard Law, was scheduled to introduce him, the decision to pull out was less about Law and more about the group and the audience the president would have been addressing.

According to several White House sources, Bush never committed to speak at the conference, nor did any senior White House staff push for an appearance. It's true that the Bush camp is looking for ways to reach out to Catholic voters, but it wasn't clear that Catholic Charities was the way to go.

"The perception is that nationally, it's a pretty liberal outfit," says one White House political staffer. "That's what we got from people we talked to about it. The question comes down to whether we get any bump out of a presidential appearance. Does it really help us with outreach?"

Certainly, say the staffers, appearing on a dais with now controversial figures like Law would not have helped Bush with Catholic voters furious over the U.S. church's response to the homosexual and molestation scandals.

The Bush team has used several prominent Catholics as sounding boards on how best to attract voters. "This speech wasn't considered critical, so we took a pass," says another White House staffer.

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