Profile of New House Leader Roy Blunt

House Republicans' choice to take over Tom DeLay's duties, Roy Blunt, is known by politicians from both parties for his "velvet" approach. But he has been dogged by his own ethics questions. Host Melissa Block talks to Deirdre Shesgreen, Washington correspondent for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Yesterday after he was named temporary majority leader, Missouri Congressman Roy Blunt turned to a metaphor. He made note of the carved stone bust he keeps in his office of someone; no one knows exactly who.

Representative ROY BLUNT (Republican, Missouri; Majority Whip; Temporary Majority Leader): I was particularly intrigued by a bust of a person that had been in this building since about 1815, we believe, and since 1915 nobody's known who it was. The very idea that in a country as young as ours, you'd have a statue of somebody in a building and not know who they were is amazing to me. But it also expresses to me every day, when I look at it and our members when we look at it who are in my office meeting, that what we do here is more important than who we are.

BLOCK: Well, to help us fill in the picture of who this new majority leader is, we turn to Deirdre Shesgreen. She covers Congress for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in Roy Blunt's home state.

Thanks for being with us.

Ms. DEIRDRE SHESGREEN (St. Louis Post-Dispatch): Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: And Roy Blunt rose quite quickly to the top of the leadership in the House.

Ms. SHESGREEN: Yes, he certainly did. He was first elected in 1996, and almost immediately he started up the leadership ladder by aligning himself with Mr. DeLay. In 1998, when Mr. Blunt was just a sophomore, DeLay passed over more senior Republican lawmakers to choose Blunt as his chief deputy whip, a very powerful position. And then by 2002, when Mr. DeLay moved up to majority leader, Mr. Blunt became majority whip.

BLOCK: The term `whip' really describes what that job is. Why don't you describe what the whip does and how Roy Blunt has done that job, what his style is?

Ms. SHESGREEN: Whip is the job basically of keeping your party in line and making sure that when the House leadership brings a bill to the floor, it's going to pass. So you have to talk to your colleagues and know what their issues are in their home districts and how they feel about a bill and know whether you can count on them to vote yes when you bring something to the floor.

And Mr. Blunt has done it with a slightly different style than Mr. DeLay. He's known as someone with a softer touch. When he was first elected for the job, Mr. DeLay, whose nickname is the "Hammer" because of his sort of aggressive, hard-charging style--he gave Mr. Blunt a hammer in a velvet case, which was kind of apt because he's just known as a little more conciliatory, a little more of a listener than an arm-twister.

BLOCK: Now when Roy Blunt won out as House majority leader, he won out over a less conservative member, David Dreier. When Roy Blunt talks about pushing the conservative agenda, is there any difference between Blunt's agenda or his record and that of Tom DeLay?

Ms. SHESGREEN: No, there really is not a difference. The difference comes in style. I mean, Mr. Blunt and Mr. DeLay's voting records, I think, if you looked at them side by side, would be very similar. He's conservative; the conservatives trust him and they think of him as one of their own. He is seen by some Democrats as more moderate simply because he listens to them and he is maybe a little less partisan, but no less conservative.

BLOCK: Tell us a bit about Roy Blunt's background.

Ms. SHESGREEN: Mr. Blunt was a former president of a Baptist university in southwest Missouri. He ran statewide in Missouri as secretary of State. He came to Congress, as I mentioned, in 1996. His family has--one son is the state's governor, and his other son is a state lobbyist.

BLOCK: And there are some ethical issues that have come up over the years around Roy Blunt.

Ms. SHESGREEN: Yes. He has family ties to two lobbyists. His wife is a lobbyist for Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, and his son is also a lobbyist, as I mentioned, in state government in Missouri. And in 2002, Roy Blunt reportedly inserted a provision favored by Philip Morris into a homeland security bill late one night, a provision that had not gone through the normal congressional hearing process. Mr. Blunt says that it was not his provision; that he was just monitoring it and happened to be there late that night and so had agreed to sort of keep tabs on it. But he did come under fire for that.

BLOCK: Deirdre Shesgreen, thanks very much.

Ms. SHESGREEN: Thank you.

BLOCK: Deirdre Shesgreen is Washington correspondent for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She spoke with us from the Capitol.

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