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Aspin Ousted as House Armed Services Chairman

January 7, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ House Democrats voted narrowly Wednesday to oust Rep. Les Aspin as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, a defeat caused by Aspin’s support of the Reagan administration on the MX nuclear missile and aid to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.

However, no successor to Aspin was elected, meaning he could rally and win back the chairmanship when the issue is finally decided Jan. 22.

The Wisconsin Democrat was voted out, 130-124, by a secret ballot only two years after he won the powerful post by engineering the ouster of the long- time chairman of the panel.

Aspin was the only chairman voted down as the Democrats, who hold a majority of 258 seats in the 435-member House, approved all the other chairmen of the House standing committees for new two-year terms.

The vote by the caucus now sends the issue back to the Democrats’ House Policy and Steering Committee, which will propose one or more candidates for the chairmanship when the caucus meets again Jan. 22.

Several Democrats on Armed Services Committee are likely to be contenders for the spot. They include Reps. Marvin Leath of Texas, Charles Bennett of Florida, Patricia Schroeder of Colorado, and Nicholas Mavroules of Massachusetts.

After the vote, Aspin met with his supporters and then told reporters, he ″very seriously″ plans to continue his fight to regain the chairmanship and added, ″I think it’s a very good shot.″

But he was contrite. ″It’s not over until it’s over. When you have a yes or no vote, it’s a good device to send a message. It was sent and received. It’s a message about dealing with other members of the House,″ Aspin said, but he refused to elaborate.

″The message here was ’don’t mess with the liberals,‴ said Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., one of the liberals who stuck with Aspin.

Democratic liberals in the House were angered over the past two years when Aspin backed President Reagan’s plan to build the 10-warhead MX missiles and provide military aid to the anti-Nicaraguan rebels.

Rep. Robert Mrazek, D-N.Y., said, ″It’s a confidence-no confidence vote in Les Aspin and the margin here has clearly been a lot of disgruntled liberals. A lot of the liberals felt he told them one thing on the MX and the Contras and then voted the other way.″

Aspin, 48, was first elected to Congress in 1970 after spending two years in the Army and serving for a time at the Pentagon as the one of the civilian ″whiz kids″ brought to the Defense Department in the early 1960s by former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara.

Two years ago, Aspin won the chairmanship by ousting the frail and aging Rep. Melvin Price of Illinois. Price was first voted out as chairman by a 121-118 margin and Aspin was then elected by beating Bennett, 125-103.

In recent weeks, Aspin had refused to discuss his fight to retain the chairmanship, but had worked hard to win another term and Democratic vote counters had predicted he would win another term from the 258 Democrats in the chamber.

But on Monday, Leath had predicted victory for himself, saying, ″I’d guess I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 to 155 votes.″

Although many liberals were unhappy with Aspin, Mrs. Schroeder was one of the liberals who stuck with him.

″I’m stunned,″ she said after the vote. ″I didn’t expect anything like this. All our vote counts showed us ahead, although we thought it would be close. I thought the caucus made a mistake because I think Aspin had learned his lessons and would be better for liberals than he had been in the past.″

Now, Mrs. Schroeder said, ″all bets are off″ and she told reporters she is considering seeking the chairmanship.

″I’m thinking seriously about running. I’ll have to talk to people and see where the votes are before I make any decision,″ she said.

House Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas, said, ″I’m not particularly surprised. ... One learns to sense the direction where things are moving.″ As for the coming race, he said, ″I am being fair and impartial.″

Mavroules said, ″I wasn’t surprised″ and told reporters, ″I’m running for the job. I offer an alternative″ representing the liberal-moderate position.

Bennett said, ″I believe I’m the best qualified man for the job ... I’m a decorated combat soldier ... I’m a legislative activist. I’m interested in doing things that can win for our country.″ He predicted he will win.

When Aspin was elected in 1985, he ranked seventh in seniority among Democrats on the panel in a body which normally chooses chairman by the seniority system.

Leath ranks 14th among committee Democrats in seniority while Mrs. Schroeder is eighth in seniority.

″I haven’t sat on this committee for all these years to see someone with less seniority beat me,″ she said, referring to Leath. ″But seniority has clearly been discounted.″

Leath, a conservative, said, ″My challenge to Les Aspin was political. I felt Les was not exhibiting the kind of leadership the committee needs, the kind of leadership the Democratic party needs, the kind of leadership the country needs as a whole.″

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