House Set to Vote on Tom DeLay's Replacement

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are scheduled to vote Thursday on a successor to ousted Majority Leader Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX). Madeleine Brand speaks with NPR political editor Ken Rudin about the top contenders — Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) and Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ) — and who will likely win the post.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. House Republicans elect a new Majority Leader today. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madelein Brand. That new leader will replace Tom DeLay, who was forced out of the job last year, after being indicted on corruption charges in Texas. Up close, DeLay ally, Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri is considered the front runner, but he faces two challengers who argue that picking Blunt would send the wrong signal to voters about the Republican Party. And joining us to talk about this is NPR's political editor, Ken Rudin. Hi, Ken.

KEN RUDIN reporting:

Hi, Madeleine.

BRAND: So, tell us something about these challengers.

RUDIN: Well, what you said about Roy Blunt is probably the most important thing. He is very close to Tom DeLay, when Tom DeLay was named Whip of the House, he name Roy Blunt as his Deputy Whip in '98. And then when DeLay moved up to become leader, Blunt became the regular Whip. Another problem with Roy Blunt is that he's closely tied to lobbyists.

His wife is one, his son is one, and given the Republican party unease about Jack Abramoff's scandal and other scandals, ethic scandals in Congress, having somebody so close to lobbyists may not send the right signal. Now, the problem is that there are two opponents to Roy Blunt. The leading challenger is John Boehner, the congressman from Ohio, very tan.

He's the chairman of the education and workforce committee. Also very close to lobbyists. He was part of the Newt Gingrich leadership team in the Republican party, until the Republicans got in trouble for overeaching with the Clinton impeachment in '98, and Boehner was forced out of the leadership back then. But again, Boehner seems to be getting a lot of support.

Not as much as Blunt, Blunt is very popular among his members. And the third candidate in the race is John Shaddegg, a very strong conservative from Arizona. Actually, all three candidates are conservatives, but Shaddegg is seen to be a movement conservative, and he is trying to make the case that he doesn't have the ties to lobbyists and (unintelligible) as the other two candidates, he's more of the reformer in the race.

BRAND: So Ken, do either of these two men stand a chance, or is it really going to be Roy Blunt?

RUDIN: Blunt is considered the favorite. He is the acting Majority Leader, since DeLay was indicted and had to step down. He got a boost yesterday, when the House passed that Deficit Reduction package bill, it only passed by two votes, 216 to 214, but Blunt got some credit for the House passage of the Deficit Reduction bill yesterday. But again, the signal out there is that the Republican party is nervous about ethics, if it's nervous about this culture of corruption, as the Democrats keep saying, the question is whether Roy Blunt is right person to get that job.

BRAND: And is he the right person for other reasons? Is he the one that can, as Tom DeLay did, usher legislation through the House?

RUDIN: Nobody could do the job that Tom DeLay did. Whatever you think of Tom DeLay, and whatever you think about his ethics problems, Tom DeLay was able, and they call him the Hammer for a good reason, Tom DeLay was able to cajole, and force, and get, and push members into voting the, you know, the united party way. It's not been the same, it's not been this easy for the Republicans since DeLay left the leadership, but any of the three would be able to run the 230 or so Republicans in the House.

The question is, really, I know, and first of all, and Blunt is already been doing it, so we know that he can do it. But look, today is Groundhog Day, and the question is, do Republicans wanna look up and see Tom DeLay's shadow? Not just a few members of the Republican side fear that will be the headline, should Roy Blunt win today.

BRAND: NPR political editor, Ken Rudin. Thank you.

RUDIN: Thank you, Madeleine.

BRAND: And you can read more about Tom DeLay's shadow at Ken Rudin's Political Junkie column. It's about the race to be the new House leader. It's at our website, npr.org.

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