Multiple Candidates Vie for House Leadership
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
The race is on for a new House majority leader. Republican members of Congress are buzzing now that Tom DeLay has announced that he will no longer try to regain the post. Many in the GOP, nervous about this year's midterm elections, hope to start with a fresh face and new ideas. But as NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports, some fear the candidates in the leadership race may not be that new or fresh.
ANDREA SEABROOK reporting:
This leadership race might seem a bit more pressured and hectic if lawmakers were in Washington, but they're not. They're scattered across the country and the globe taking advantage of a few weeks off before the year's work begins. So instead, Republican congressmen are spending a whole lot of time on the horn these days, and the general consensus seems to be that this change had to happen. New Hampshire's Charlie Bass was out in the garage working on his 1948 Chrysler convertible.
Representative CHARLES BASS (Republican, New Hampshire): First of all, we've been living in a world of un--very undefined leadership in our party. Secondly, pre-occupying ourselves with Jack Abramoff and grand juries and indictments and so forth is not what our agenda should be for next year.
SEABROOK: Jack Abramoff is the convicted lobbyist who had close ties with many Republican lawmakers, including Tom DeLay. Many in the party are eager to get some distance between Abramoff's political scandal and the public image of the party. Connecticut Republican Christopher Shays is in Tanzania on a health study tour. He says the right candidate for majority leader will have to make some promises.
Representative CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (Republican, Connecticut): That things will be different, that they'll pay greater attention to not just what we pass but how we pass it and who influences us in that process. That's very important to me.
SEABROOK: OK, so Republicans want change, but how about some names?
Rep. BASS: I have heard that Congressman Lewis from California is running, possibly Congressman Shadegg, Congressman Reynolds, Congressman Boehner.
SEABROOK: Charlie Bass picks out some of the names burning across phone lines right now. Jerry Lewis is the chairman of the Appropriations Committee. John Shadegg is a conservative from Arizona. Tom Reynolds chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, and John Boehner is the chairman of the Labor, Education and Workforce Committee. Of these, Boehner has declared his candidacy for majority leader and is thought to be the top candidate. He's very popular among his colleagues. And there's another biggie already in the running, current majority whip Roy Blunt. He's been acting as the majority leader since DeLay was forced to step aside in September, and his work since then has caused some, like Tennessee's Marsha Blackburn, to give him their support.
Representative MARSHA BLACKBURN (Republican, Tennessee): Because he has proven to me that he has the ability to listen, to be a thoughtful, thorough, well-schooled leader.
SEABROOK: But not everyone thinks boosting Blunt from whip to leader would be such a good idea. Michigan Republican Thaddeus McCotter spoke from his district office in Livonia.
Representative THADDEUS McCOTTER (Republican, Michigan): There is a concern among some members, and I would be one of them, that the headlines will read `Republican Party considers problem so big, they promote everybody.'
SEABROOK: McCotter supports Boehner, who, he says, has credibility that the current leadership doesn't have in the effort to clean up the image of corruption in the party. And an interesting twist is that Boehner used to be in the House leadership but lost his post in 1998 after he was blamed for doing a less-than-stellar job selling the party's policies to the public. Boehner was an ally of Newt Gingrich and no buddy of Tom DeLay's. But McCotter says Boehner's history doesn't necessarily hurt him.
Rep. McCOTTER: Having had a leadership position in the past and having lost it, I think he's been chastened and will be very responsive to the conference.
SEABROOK: And so right now, the race for House majority leader seems to be shaping up to be Blunt vs. Boehner, but that's not exactly to everyone's liking. There's a lot of grumbling going on among rank-and-file Republicans who feel choosing between a current member of leadership and a former member of leadership won't quite provide the fresh face they were hoping for in this election year. And some say there's still plenty of time for a dark-horse candidate to pull forward in the race, but the fact that Blunt and Boehner both have pretty high statures in the party means it would be difficult for another candidate to pull votes from either. Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, Washington.