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GOP Elects New House Leader

February 2, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: There was relative shock on Capitol Hill this afternoon when Republicans emerged after more than three hours behind closed doors with an unexpected announcement.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: I would like to introduce the new conference majority leader, John Boehner.

KWAME HOLMAN: Education Committee chairman John Boehner, an eight-term representative from Ohio, edged out the odds-on favorite and acting majority leader, Missouri’s Roy Blunt.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: I’m humbled by the support of my colleagues to be the new majority leader for Republicans in the House.

We ran a good race — come over here, Roy – it’s been a well — it has been a well-fought race. And I think our members wanted to make – wanted obviously to make a big decision and they did.

With that, I’m going to introduce our whip, and my friend, Roy Blunt.

REP. ROY BLUNT: Thank you, John.

KWAME HOLMAN: Blunt himself put the best face possible on his defeat.

REP. ROY BLUNT: We’re ready now to start not just making the Congress better but the country better.

When I started making the calls a few weeks ago on the majority leader’s race, I decided when I made those calls, I wasn’t going to finish a call without saying something good about John Boehner. I may have overdone that just a little bit now that I look back at it. But I’m glad we both did it that way. We’ve been good friends a long time.

KWAME HOLMAN: The possibility of a leadership election first emerged last September, when Tom DeLay was forced to step down temporarily as majority leader after his indictment on money laundering charges.

However, DeLay vowed to return.

TOM DeLAY: I have done nothing wrong.

KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, House Speaker Dennis Hastert immediately chose Roy Blunt, DeLay’s deputy, as an interim replacement.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (November 2005): The wisdom of the conference today was to move forward. We have elected Roy Blunt as the temporary leader in the House.

REP. ROY BLUNT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

KWAME HOLMAN: Blunt had risen to power with DeLay following the departure of Speaker Newt Gingrich’s in the late ’90s. In his first few months on the job, Blunt garnered several legislative victories, but suffered a few costly defeats as well.

SPOKESPERSON: The motion to re-commit is not agreed to.

KWAME HOLMAN: And then last month, Jack Abramoff, a former lobbyist with close ties to DeLay, was indicted on corruption charges, and DeLay, feeling pressure from within his party, stepped aside permanently.

REP. TOM DeLAY (January 2006): I asked Speaker Hastert to convene the House Republican conference as soon as possible for the purpose of electing a new majority leader.

KWAME HOLMAN: Blunt was the first to announce for that job and warned Republicans not to overreact to the lobbying scandal at the expense of other issues. But John Boehner entered the race, arguing it was time for a new leader to restore trust.

However, Boehner had been part of Speaker Gingrich’s leadership team and served as the House majority’s liaison with K Street’s lobbying community.

A late entry was Arizona’s John Shadegg, the most outspoken lobbying reformer of the three.

For several weeks Blunt was considered the clear frontrunner because of his leadership experience and the fact that he had raised much more Political Action Committee money for colleagues.

In recent days, however, the race tightened as House Republicans reconsidered what they needed to do to repair the damage caused by scandal. That was on the minds of members this morning as they arrived for today’s secret ballot vote.

Leadership races traditionally have turned on personal or regional loyalties, the promise of committee assignments, or other favors. But they’re also famous for their unpredictability, and that was the case today.

After a first ballot, Blunt had received the most votes, but not a majority of the 231 members, forcing a runoff with Boehner after Shadegg dropped out.

On the second ballot, Boehner defeated Blunt by 13 votes. Boehner supporter Dave Hobson was asked whether Blunt suffered from his association with Tom DeLay.

REP. DAVE HOBSON: You know, it could be. I mean, that’s something for everybody to say, but I think Boehner – I don’t think it’s anything against Roy, because he’s a very talented guy — Boehner ran a good campaign, and he obviously convinced a lot of people who had early committed that on a second ballot to be for him.

Had they won on the first ballot, none of that would have counted, but I think he did a good job and he showed a maturity in this that he probably didn’t have back when we started this way back, and I think that came through very well.

Well he has grown in the job. When he came here, he hadn’t been a legislator. He’s been a committee chairman; he’s done some great legislation.

KWAME HOLMAN: Arizona’s Jeff Flake also backed Boehner, but only after his original choice, fellow Arizonan Shadegg, lost out.

REP. JEFF FLAKE: We felt that we needed a fresh face, and needed a course correction. It is easier to do that when you have, you know, someone new.

KWAME HOLMAN: However, Roy Blunt will remain part of the House Republican leadership team as majority whip.