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The Restless Activity Of Congress in Recess

In the lull, Capitol Hill politics revolve around key issues - such as who gets the vacated offices?

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The United States Capitol during a recess is like a college campus during summer break. Quiet reigns. Elevator operators and congressional subway drivers read the newspaper between calls. The House and Senate floors are populated only by visitors. The people you're most likely to encounter in the corridors are wandering tourists.

Yet behind the large, closed wooden doors of offices and committee rooms, a lot is still going on.

Other than the scrum for prime office space, hot topic No. 1 was a mini-rebellion launched by Rep. Peter King of New York, who called for Speaker Newt Gingrich to step aside for a year until ethics charges against him are resolved or he rehabilitates his image. Representative King told a Capitol Hill newspaper that as many as 15 to 20 GOP House members agreed with him. Then freshman Rep. Steve Largent of Oklahoma made similar comments, and Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut said he would vote for Mr. Gingrich in the House GOP conference, but would abstain on the floor in January unless the ethics committee's report is released.

House Republican leaders wasted no time in circling the wagons around the Speaker, issuing a statement that they "unequivocally" support his reelection. Meanwhile, John Linder of Georgia, the new chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee said members urging Gingrich to step down "should keep their mouths shut." Two head counts show the Speaker will have no problem with his reelection.

Hot topic No. 2 was the apparent defeat of GOP Rep. Robert "B-1 Bob" Dornan in California. Mr. Dornan, who is known for saying what he thinks no matter how politically incorrect, immediately charged that Democrat Loretta Sanchez owed her victory to illegal votes from "non-citizens." In other undecided races, California Rep. George Brown (D) eked out an 865-vote victory, while in Washington state, freshman Republican Reps. Linda Smith and Jack Metcalf both opened up leads over their Democrat challengers, who had originally appeared to defeat the incumbents. Should the Republicans win, the House makeup would be 227 Republicans, 205 Democrats, 1 Independent (Bernard Sanders of Vermont), and two races in Texas to be decided Dec. 10. (A third race that day is between two Republicans.)

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