Assessing the Battle for House Majority Leader

Reps. Roy Blunt of Missouri, John Boehner of Ohio and John Shadegg of Arizona are in a three-way race to replace Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas as House majority leader. Alan Ota of Congressional Quarterly, talks with Sheilah Kast about the contest.

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SHEILAH KAST, host:

On February 2nd, Republicans in the House of Representatives are scheduled to vote on a permanent replacement for Tom DeLay as majority leader. Roy Blunt of Missouri wants the job. He's been majority leader since September, when Mr. DeLay was indicted in Texas and had to step aside. Mr. Blunt's main opponent is John Boehner of Ohio, who now chairs the Committee on Education and Workforce. The Blunt and Boehner camps both have been working hard to line up votes. On Friday, John Shadegg of Arizona got into the race. He resigned his post as the fifth-ranking Republican, chair of the Republican Policy Committee.

Alan Ota is a senior writer for Congressional Quarterly in Washington. He joins us from there.

Welcome.

Mr. ALAN OTA (Senior Writer, Congressional Quarterly): Thank you.

KAST: Congressman Blunt and his allies had wanted this vote to be taken sooner. Does either he or Congressman Boehner seem to have an insurmountable lead at this point?

Mr. OTA: Well, it looked like Mr. Blunt would get off to a fast start, and he did, but many people thought he would wrap it up rather quickly and that has not happened. It looks like both of them are kind of in a neck-and-neck race at the moment.

KAST: Do you consider Shadegg a dark horse?

Mr. OTA: He's definitely a dark horse. I'm not even sure he's got much of a horse going. You know, he's coming in very late, so he's coming in really at a point where there's not any way, really, I think that he can win it. But can he affect the outcome, I think, is the question. And I think he's already affected it in one way by resigning his position in the leadership and putting pressure on Blunt to resign as whip. If Blunt was to resign, it would be a major development. I think it would sort of change everything, in a way.

KAST: Speaker Hastert set the vote on majority leader for after the State of the Union address, and I gather the conventional wisdom on Capitol Hill is that that would help Mr. Boehner to have a later vote. What do you make of the February 2nd vote?

Mr. OTA: Well, it's going to be a very big Groundhog Day, I think, and it's going to be a secret ballot. Those are things that we rarely see in Washington. Of course, all the votes on bills and in committees, generally everybody has to say how they're going to vote. Lots of theories are floating around about potential strategies and all kinds of horse-trading potentially, and no one has to say how they vote and they can offer commitments to more than one candidate and no one will really be able to tell whether they kept the commitment or not.

KAST: Now both Congressman Blunt and Boehner have had conspicuous ties to key lobbies in the past, especially tobacco. Mr. Blunt inserted a provision to benefit Philip Morris into a bill creating the Department of Homeland Security, and Mr. Boehner distributed checks from tobacco companies to selected members on the House floor in 1995. Does the mantle of reformer fit either one more comfortably than the other?

Mr. OTA: They're both making the case that they can be a strong reformer. I think Shadegg is trying to make the argument that neither of them would be as strong a reformer as John Shadegg. Shadegg is someone who has had fewer ties to lobbyists. Lobbyists like Jack Abramoff have been at the center of the federal public corruption investigation here in Washington and that's sort of what has been fueling this anti-lobbyist sentiment, and both Boehner and Blunt have been running pretty much as fast as they can distancing themselves from their friends on K Street.

KAST: Alan Ota is a senior writer at Congressional Quarterly who covers the congressional leadership and lobbying. Thanks a lot.

Mr. OTA: Thank you.

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