BY PAUL BARTON
Enquirer Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- Rep. John Boehner said Friday that House Speaker Newt Gingrich should remain speaker rather than run for president in 2000.
Mr. Boehner, chairman of the House Republican Conference, also predicted that fellow Ohioan John Kasich of Westerville, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, will "catch fire" as a presidential candidate
even though many consider Texas Gov. George W. Bush the early frontrunner for the GOP nomination.
He made his comments at a breakfast with Washington reporters. Although Mr. Gingrich is often mentioned as a presidential possibility, Mr. Boehner, R-West Chester, said he wanted "the speaker to remain the speaker."
He denied that his judgment was based on the possibility that Mr. Gingrich might be a controversial or polarizing candidate, an observation that some political analysts have made.
"It's because he has done a good job in leading the House," Mr. Boehner said of his reasoning.
Mr. Gingrich's office said he would not be bothered by Mr. Boehner's remarks because he himself has said his plans call for remaining speaker through 2002, despite presidential speculation.
"He would be pleased to hear that John thinks he is doing a good job," said Gingrich press secretary Christina Martin.
Mr. Boehner said Republicans will definitely be moving toward the Baby Boomer generation with their 2000 nominee.
Mr. Kasich, 46, "has enthusiasm that is contagious."
He added, "I think John is a candidate who can catch fire." On other matters, Mr. Boehner said that President Clinton's "best insurance policy" against impeachment would be for the Democrats to regain control of the House.
The Republican Conference chairman said he expects Democrats to make an all-out attempt to do so, in part by attempting to scare seniors that GOP initiatives threaten Social Security.
But he said he is confident the GOP will increase its current 11-vote majority by at least 10 seats.
GOP candidates, he said, will run on a record of cutting taxes, balancing the budget and reforming welfare since gaining control of Congress in 1995.
When asked if Democrats could also take credit on those issues, he said, "I think it's clear these things would not have happened if not for the Republican Congress."
Meanwhile, the Clinton presidency, he said, will have little to offer history other than a record of scandal and Mr. Clinton's communication and political skills.
Strip those away, he said, "and what do you have left of this presidency -- absolutely nothing."
Should independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr deliver to Congress a strongly worded report about his investigation into the president, he said, the House would not be reluctant to act on it, despite the perceptions of some.
"A lot of people have taken our judiciousness and want to believe it's timidity," he said.
But he added, "Until the facts are in, I think we should continue to stay out of the way."