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Gephardt Drops Rank, Not Perks

While he may no longer be leading his party in the House, presidential hopeful Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.) will not be losing all the benefits of being one of the chamber’s top Democrats.

New Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) helped Gephardt land an office in the space-strapped Capitol and is temporarily bankrolling the carry-over of some of his key leadership staff in the 108th Congress.

Although her office couldn’t specify how much of her designated leadership funds she’s dedicating to help the Missourian retain key aides, the move — not unheard of with outgoing leaders — has allowed Gephardt to keep in place some of his senior staff while he prepares his presidential bid. And, on the flip side, sources say Gephardt has also helped Pelosi in structuring her leadership office and hiring staff.

“We wanted to provide a certain amount of transitional help,” said Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly.

“She has a great deal of respect for him, and he’s been a tremendous leader,” Daly continued. “She has a good working relationship with him, and it’s something that made sense to do.”

Gephardt, who held either the Majority or Minority Leader position since 1989 and is preparing to vie for the White House in 2004, is expected to spend much of his time this session working Members for presidential support.

Having a Capitol office and being able to maintain some leadership staff — even if temporarily — could help enormously in that effort, several Democratic sources said. The role of House Members as “superdelegates” to the Democratic presidential nominating convention has long been viewed as a key advantage for Gephardt by those helping to steer his national ambitions.

A top Gephardt adviser said Pelosi has been “extremely gracious” in all matters relating to the transition. And Gephardt, the adviser added, “was equally gracious in getting her up and started.”

Said another Democratic leadership aide: “She wanted to do things to help Gephardt transition out of being leader.”

The apparent warming in the relationship between Pelosi and Gephardt came as a surprise to some, given rumblings about bad blood between the two. Pelosi was even rumored to be eyeing a challenge to Gephardt as leader before he announced he wouldn’t seek another term.

“I don’t think there’s any love lost between those two,” said a senior Democratic aide.

Democratic sources also said they never expected Gephardt to simply resign himself to a rank-and-file status after such a long tenure of leadership in the House. But, they added, don’t expect the former leader to spend much time on Capitol Hill either.

“Obviously, he was the leader for 13 years, to the extent he’s here he needs to have Capitol space,” said the Gephardt adviser. “He needs room for himself and to meet with Members.”

Gephardt’s new office will be a small space somewhere on the first floor, according to Pelosi’s office. But regardless, it comes at a time when space is at an all-time premium because of the construction of the Capitol Visitor Center.

Newly elected leaders are struggling to find even enough space for themselves and their staffs. Some employees are even working in hallways while offices are being assigned.

A GOP leadership aide said Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) had himself offered to help Gephardt find Capitol digs, but Pelosi stepped in.

“We offered to help Gephardt, but Pelosi said she would take care of him, which apparently she did,” said the staffer.

Daly explained that it’s “because of his stature in the Caucus. He is very well-respected and Members will want to seek out his advice on a number of things.”

But, ultimately, Gephardt has his eye on another prize.

“His role is he’s running for president and running for president is a full-time job,” said the close Gephardt ally. “It’s very hard, it takes a lot of time. I don’t think he envisions spending a tremendous amount of time [guiding the new leaders]. Obviously, he’ll be available.”

The fact that Gephardt has little in the way of formal Congressional duties will allow him to devote his full attention to seeking the White House. In this session he has no committee assignments, isn’t serving as leader and isn’t running for re-election to his Congressional seat.

“Day- to- day he’s not going to have much, if any, role,” said one Democratic leadership aide. “I think Members will be surprised about how little, if any, they see Dick Gephardt here.”

But the staffer added: “I do expect Gephardt — as a frontrunner for the nomination for president — to be a major player on the overall Democratic agenda and message.”

Because of his tenure, another leadership aide said it’s impossible for Gephardt to be irrelevant.

“Members obviously have a pre-existing relationship with him,” the staffer said. “I still see folks who were close to him when he was Minority Leader still going to him for counsel. That’s not to say Pelosi doesn’t have those relationships, but he’s been around a lot longer. I don’t see him going away.”