GOP Faces Ney Departure, Leadership Decision

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Steve Inskeep talks to News Analyst Cokie Roberts about the struggles facing the Republican Party. The house majority leader post remains to be filled, while Bob Nye (R-OH) was forced to step down as chairman of the House Administration Committee.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

A lawmaker at the center of a lobbying scandal has agreed to temporarily give up his committee chairmanship. Congressman Bob Ney was identified by lobbyist Jack Abramoff in his guilty plea on corruption charges. In giving up a committee chairmanship, Ney responded to other leading Republicans, including John Boehner of Ohio, who spoke yesterday on "Fox News Sunday."

(Soundbite of "Fox News Sunday")

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): Given the allegations that have been raised against him for the good of House Republicans, I think Bob needs to seriously consider stepping aside--not that he's pleading guilty,but I think he should do what's in the best interests of our party.

INSKEEP: As it happens, Boehner is one of three Republicans hoping to lead his party in the House of Representatives. They're all seeking to replace Tom DeLay, who also left his job under pressure, and all three are running on what they call a reform agenda. We're going to discuss these developments this morning with NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts.

Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS reporting:

Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what's going on here?

ROBERTS: Well, in terms of Bob Ney stepping aside as chairman of the House Administration Committee, as you say, he was involved in this--he was unnamed, but everyone knew who it was--in the indictments against Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist, and there's a very strong sense now in the Congress that this cleanup has to go on. There are lobbying reform bills being introduced by the speaker of the House, and Democrats are using what they're calling the culture of corruption in Washington as their main theme going into the 2006 elections, so I think that as you heard from Congressman Boehner, the pressure on Congressman Ney to step aside was very, very high. And the House Administration Committee is a committee that basically runs the House; all the staff, the office space, the library, everything, so it's a very, very powerful committee.

INSKEEP: Now whoever replaces Tom DeLay will inherit a Republican majority that certainly was strengthened by things DeLay did, including redrawing district boundaries in Texas.

ROBERTS: Well--and redrawing district boundaries in the middle of the decade, you know, usually this is done very 10 years, but this is--he has done it in a way that is particularly blatant. But over the last few years, this is something that we have seen more and more and more of these lines drawn to be com--have districts that are completely homogeneous, and I think on Martin Luther King Day, that this is something we really ought to talk about, because back when there were not such finely-drawn lines, you had members of Congress who had districts that included many more minorities in their districts, instead of having districts drawn to be minority-majority districts, and the--when they fight over the Martin Luther King holiday came before Congress--and it was a big fight, Steve--one of the reasons that the holiday was approved was that many members, particularly in the South, had in their districts a large percentage of African-American voters, and they felt the pressure to honor Dr. King. Now what you have is districts that are either lily-white and you would not see that kind of pressure, or districts that are all black, where you would get that automatic vote and not the pressure in the other districts, so I think that this day is a perfect example of the kind of problem that these homogeneous districts produce.

INSKEEP: Let's bring in another issue here very briefly. This leadership election in the House comes at the same time that the Senate is considering the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. What's likely to happen there?

ROBERTS: I think we can expect the confirmation of Judge Alito, barring any surprise, which would be a big surprise, and Democrats seem to be backing away, at least at the moment, from any idea of a filibuster against it. Outside groups are trying to change that view, but at the moment, that's where it stands.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much.

That's NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts, who joins us every Monday morning.

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