Boehner to Replace DeLay as House GOP Leader

Rep. John Boehner (R-OH)

Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) is pictured following a vote that elected him as House majority leader on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 2. Reuters hide caption

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Rep. John Boehner of Ohio was elected House majority leader today to replace indicted Rep. Tom DeLay. Boehner defeated fellow Republican Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, 122-109, after lagging behind his rival in a first, inconclusive ballot. The third contender — John Shadegg of Arizona — withdrew after finishing last in the first round of balloting.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. House Republicans chose a new Majority Leader this afternoon, and their choice was a surprise, Ohio congressman John Boehner. He takes the place of Tom DeLay, who was forced out of his post following an indictment on money laundering charges last fall. Missouri's Roy Blunt, the Acting Leader, was thought to be the frontrunner in the race. But, as NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports, Republicans wanted to make a change at a critical time.

ANDREA SEABROOK reporting:

This vote proved once again that it's impossible to predict the outcome of a secret ballot election. Going into the crowded Republican conference meeting, Majority Whip Blunt said he had enough vows of support from his colleagues to win outright. But it didn't happen that way. Blunt just missed the number he needed to get a majority on the first ballot in a three-man race, and so it went to a runoff between Blunt and Ohio's John Boehner, and Boehner won, 122 to 109.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): I came here to help solve the problems that the American people face every day. And I think what you're going to see us do is rededicate ourselves to dealing with issues, big issues, that the American people expect us to deal with.

SEABROOK: Like improving family incomes, Boehner said, creating jobs and providing better national security. But what most Republicans said coming out of the meeting was that they were looking for a new vision for their party.

Representative ZACH WAMP (Republican, Tennessee): The desire for new leadership was the order of the day.

SEABROOK: Tennessee's Zach Wamp said inside that stuffy, smoky room, he felt the winds of change.

Representative WAMP: We have an extraordinary opportunity to make reforms, to pivot and turn in the direction the American people would like to see, and if we didn't elect some new leaders, we wouldn't be taking full advantage of the opportunity.

SEABROOK: Republicans want to get some distance between themselves and the Washington corruption scandals of recent months. Several GOP lawmakers had ties with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and many were close to Tom DeLay, especially Roy Blunt.

Though in public many Republicans say this is little more than a Washington hullabaloo that their constituents back home couldn't care less about, in private some admit they're worried, especially with Democrats hammering them for what they've dubbed a culture of corruption. So some, like Illinois's Mark Kirk, hope Boehner can give the Republican Party's image a facelift.

Representative MARK KIRK (Republican, Illinois): I'm also encouraged because he does very well on television. And I think that we have gone from a Majority Leader that did not do well on television to a Majority Leader that I think is going to do very well on TV.

SEABROOK: For his part, Roy Blunt was gracious in defeat, saying he was proud of having run a clean, optimistic campaign.

Representative ROY BLUNT (Republican, Missouri): I made a commitment when I started making those first phone calls that I wasn't going to make a single phone call that I didn't say something good about John Boehner. I may have overdone that a little bit, in fact.

SEABROOK: And he will keep his position as House Majority Whip, working under the newly elected Majority Leader. Blunt said he's at peace with that.

BLUNT: What we do here is so much more important than who we are. We're going to work to make the Congress better, but more importantly, we're going to work to make the country better, and I look forward to working with John Boehner, the Majority Leader, to make that happen.

SEABROOK: At the top of Republicans' agenda is reform of the way bills are written in the House, the relationships lawmakers have with Washington lobbyists, and a jump-start of the Ethics Committee, which has lain dormant since its admonishments of the once powerful Tom DeLay. So for now, Republicans have a new leadership lineup they hope will lead them to success in this fall's elections, which are now only nine months away.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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