House Democrats, anticipating the historic resignation next week of Speaker Jim Wright, are making plans for quickly promoting Majority Leader Thomas S. Foley of Washington to the post.
But intrigue is brewing for filling in the rest of the party leadership slots as some Democrats worry that Rep. Tony Coelho, Foley's likely successor, could hurt the party because of questions about his financial dealings.Foley, talking with reporters Thursday in Seattle, said he spoke to Wright earlier in the day and the speaker "repeated his desire to have an opportunity to state his side of the case to the widest possible audience, and he's determined to take that opportunity at the first time that seems appropriate."
Leadership sources in the Capitol said arrangements are being made for Wright to make a resignation address to the House next Wednesday, but the speaker himself had not yet decided on his precise course of action.
Wright, D-Texas, remained secluded in his office Thursday, but he released a statement making clear he no longer is seeking any "plea bargain" with the House ethics committee.
One of the most serious charges made by the ethics committee was that Wright's wife, Betty, was given a no-work job by Wright's friend and business partner, George Mallick. House rules prohibit gifts from people with an interest in legislation, and the committee said it believed Mallick, a Fort Worth developer, was clearly an interested party.
Wright, who has vowed to clear his wife's name, dispatched his attorneys on Wednesday in search of a deal that would accomplish that, according to sources who said the lawyers offered his resignation in exchange for the panel dropping at least the charges that involve his wife.
But the deal fell through as Republicans and at least one Democrat on the panel resisted. Wright on Thursday distanced himself from the effort and indicated it was over.
It remained unclear whether Wright, if he resigned his speakership, would at the same time resign his seat in the House or if that would happen soon thereafter. The ethics committee would be forced to abandon its case only if Wright left the House.
If Wright resigns his speakership, his party would quickly caucus to fill his post and the House presumably would elect the popular Foley, the No. 2 House Democrat. If Foley moved up to speaker, his post of majority leader would become vacant.
Coelho, D-Calif., would be next in line. However, Coelho recently admitted that he failed to include on his financial disclosure forms a $50,000 bank loan that he used toward purchasing junk bonds.
After the troubles surrounding Wright, some lawmakers were privately promoting Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., for the majority leader's post. Gephardt and Coelho are political allies, but the Missouri Democrat did not rule out such a run.
Gephardt press spokesman Deborah Johns said her boss is "waiting to see what the speaker is going to do. He's listening to people and at this time he just hasn't made a decision."
Rep. Ed Jenkins, D-Ga., also was being mentioned for a leadership spot. Contenders lining up for Coelho's No. 3 whip's spot, should he try to move up, included Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., the current chief deputy whip, and Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. William H. Gray III, D-Pa.
The politicking was taking place quietly.
"There's a certain amount of inappropriateness in mounting a campaign before the funeral," quipped Rep. Pat Williams, D-Mont.