Democrats, Republicans Jockey for New Capitol Roles

The new Congress will also result in House leadership changes, with Democrat Nancy Pelosi ready to exert her new influence on the chamber. And the Republicans will be voting on who will represent it in its new minority position.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams joins us now for some analysis on the House leadership races. Good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So, Juan, is this House leadership mostly about personal alliances or real issues?

WILLIAMS: Well, the bottom line here, Renee, is old-fashioned, hardball politics. There is an issue at play, however. It's one that decided the election, the war. John Murtha got out early on it and strengthened the hand of Pelosi and all Democrats opposing the war with his credibility as a Vietnam veteran. He took a lot of criticism from the Bush White House for spearheading the call for troops to begin coming home.

So he's a hero to the anti-war base in the Democratic Party. So by backing Murtha, Pelosi is sending a signal to voters, establishing her leadership of the Democrats and the look of the party as firmly rooted in opposition to the war. Steny Hoyer is much more moderate on the war.

Now back to the pure politics of it, Renee. Hoyer is also a man who challenged Pelosi for the minority whip position back in 2001. When she defeated Hoyer for that post, it was John Murtha who was her campaign manager.

MONTAGNE: So with the Democrats, who do you see must doubt about who wins?

WILLIAMS: No, not really. Hoyer has the House majority leader post I think wrapped up. Although late yesterday the word was around town that Pelosi was beginning to make some phone calls for Murtha. But she wasn't yet using her biggest weapon of threatening to take away anyone's committee assignments. You've got to remember, this will be a secret vote, Renee. Hoyer, by the measure of people high up in the Democratic Party, has the votes to win.

Pelosi may feel, though, that even if Hoyer wins, he's no threat to her. In fact, that puts him in the position of having to prove that he will still be a loyal lieutenant. Pelosi may be a 66-year-old grandmother but she's showing a really bold streak here. Making it clear she's willing to punish anyone who challenges her and reward her friends.

MONTAGNE: Grandmother, of course, as she says of herself. On the Republican side, you have Mike Pence of Indiana and John Shadegg of Arizona running for GOP leader and whip, respectively. And they're challenging incumbents, men who've held the majority versions of those positions.

WILLIAMS: You're right. Yesterday, it still look like John Boehner and Roy Blunt have what remains of the Tom DeLay/Dennie Hastert GOP leadership team lining up behind them. Hastert, who remains speaker of the House until the end of this session, has said he does not want to be minority leader when the Democrats take control in January. But the outsiders in this content, Pence and Shadegg, appeal to movement conservatives, Renee, people who were unhappy with the Abramoff scandal, the Foley scandal, deficit spending.

Blunt and Boehner were acolytes of the money politics version of conservative politics as played by Tom DeLay. The question now is whether the upstarts are able to capitalize on the party's losses in the midterms to stir up enough anger to erase what remains of the old guard right now.

MONTAGNE: And Democrats added another seat to their victory total yesterday when they claimed a seat the Republicans had held in Connecticut. Why was that result just coming in?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, they had an automatic recount because the difference was less than one-half of one percent of the total vote. But the Associated Press reported yesterday they expect Joe Courtney will be certified today as the winner in the 2nd Congressional District. He will win apparently by just 91 votes out of 250,000 cast, defeating incumbent Rob Simmons. He's the second Democrat to defeat a Republican incumbent in Connecticut this year. Democrat Chris Murphy defeated 12-term incumbent Nancy Johnson last week.

MONTAGNE: Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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After the Election, New Races on Capitol Hill

John Murtha and Steny Hoyer

Democrats John Murtha (left) and Steny Hoyer are vying to become House majority leader, when their party takes control of Congress in January. Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Getty Images
Reps. Joe Barton, Mike Pence and John Boehner

The race for House Republican leader includes Reps. Joe Barton (from left), Mike Pence and John Boehner. Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Getty Images

Both parties will be electing their leaders for the upcoming 110th Congress this week, Democrats on Thursday, Republicans on Friday. Here is a rundown of the ballot:

Democrats

With the current Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, likely to become the next speaker of the House, two veteran congressmen from Eastern and Democratic states are vying to become her second-in-command.

Steny Hoyer of Maryland is the current Democratic whip and hopes to move up the leadership ladder behind Pelosi. Hoyer is a genial, loquacious, centrist Democrat, who is pro-business but socially liberal. He has campaigned long and hard for the post, donating more than $600,000 from his political action committee to the campaigns of other Democratic congressional candidates. His long time in the running, and steady solicitation of support, is thought to have made him the front-runner.

Hoyer's competition is John Murtha of Pennsylvania. A longtime hawk on defense matters and a social conservative, Murtha gained national note and notoriety when he called for the withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq in November 2005. Pelosi cited Murtha's stance as a turning point in Democrats' efforts to regain a congressional majority, and she has endorsed Murtha for the leadership post. But critics charge that Murtha, a relative latecomer in the campaign, has ethics problems, having been accused of steering federal defense contracts to his district and to firms that have given him campaign contributions.

The next tier of leadership posts has been resolved. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the current chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, will become majority whip, the No. 3 position. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), who as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recruited the candidates and drafted the strategy that catapulted Democrats into power on Nov. 7, will become the new caucus chairman while retaining the campaign title as well for 2006. Emanuel agreed not to challenge Clyburn for the whip job, and will see the duties of the caucus chairman expanded.

Republicans

The GOP faces the challenge of transitioning from 12 years as the majority, setting the agenda and controlling votes, to becoming the congressional loyal opposition. With House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) declining to run for a leadership post in the minority, the front-runner for Republican leader is the current majority leader, John Boehner of Ohio. Boehner has run a low-profile campaign, and as a relative newcomer to his current leadership post he is not held responsible for the GOP's congressional losses on Nov. 7. Still, he was around for some of the trauma that afflicted GOP incumbents in the current Congress — including the 11th hour emergence of the Mark Foley congressional page scandal. And now he faces challenges from two men who believe the GOP needs some fresh faces.

Mike Pence of Indiana heads the party's conservative faction in the House, known as the Republican Study Committee. He's been touting his communications skills, insisting that the minority will need someone who can strongly make its case. And he argues the party needs to return to its conservative roots and abandon the "big-government Republicanism" that he says the voters rejected. Pence felt the heat in his home state, where three other Republican House members were defeated.

Joe Barton of Texas is perhaps the longest of long shots for the leader's post. The current chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee, Barton joined the race just this week, arguing that he combines Pence's conservative fervor and Boehner's pragmatic experience and can get the job done. He may also feel that as chief sponsor of the energy package Congress approved in 2005, he has more accomplishments to show than his rivals.

The race for House minority whip is probably the most hotly contested of the GOP leadership races. It pits the incumbent Republican whip, Roy Blunt of Missouri, against Arizona's John Shadegg. Blunt, a onetime protege of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has been around the longest of the GOP leaders. But that could be Blunt's biggest liability for those Republicans who want to put a fresh face on the party. Shadegg is a member of the vaunted "revolution" class of 1994, and has argued that he would renew the fervor of the Republican Revolution. Some Republicans have also talked of drafting Eric Cantor of Virginia for this job. Cantor has served as the chief deputy whip to Blunt.

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