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In House, Both Parties Do A Leadership Dance

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In House, Both Parties Do A Leadership Dance


In House, Both Parties Do A Leadership Dance

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

First this hour, to Capitol Hill, where Democrats and Republicans are reshaping their leadership teams. Now that the GOP has won the House majority, the party's leaders are pledging to run things differently. And with more than 80 new members heading to Washington, there is no question the House is changing. Today, House GOP leaders announced plans to add a freshman, someone with no experience in Congress, to their leadership team.

NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports on the decisions that both parties face about who will lead them in the House.

ANDREA SEABROOK: Republican leader John Boehner and party whip Eric Cantor are circulating a letter among incoming GOP members of Congress. It says, quote, "This is no ordinary freshman class, and this is no ordinary time for our country." That's why, write Boehner and Cantor, they're creating two new positions within the party, specifically for incoming freshmen. One will be the group's representative on the leadership team. The other will sit on the panel that decides which congressmen get on which committees. That's pretty powerful.

Oregon Republican Greg Walden is running the GOP majority transition team. He spoke to reporters before a meeting today.

Representative GREG WALDEN (Republican, Oregon): We've got well over 80 members that will be new to our conference coming here. A lot of them bring a lot of energy, intelligence and experience that we want to incorporate into how we rewrite the rules of the House and the rules of the Republican Conference.

SEABROOK: Several congressmen-elect have announced they'll run for the new positions, including a few who have backing from Tea Party groups.

Meanwhile, the Democrats are struggling to figure out how they'll deal with one of the realities of losing control of the House. The majority has four official leadership positions, while the minority has only three.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi surprised Washington when she announced her bid to remain as the party's leader, and so far, there have been no serious challenges to her.

That means the current number two, Maryland Democrat Steny Hoyer, is pitted against the number three man, South Carolina's Jim Clyburn, for the position of Democratic whip.

Inside baseball? Yes. But there's a bigger point. Democrats say how they structure their leadership is critical. It must reflect an understanding of the message voters sent on November 2nd and launch the party toward new success in 2012.

The man who will be best at this, say many members, is the moderate, Steny Hoyer. California Democrat Jane Harman calls Hoyer indispensible.

Representative JANE HARMAN (Democrat, California): He's a bridge builder. He's a unifier. He's inclusive, and he wants to solve problems. I don't want to throw spitballs. I think voters are sick of that. And the only recipe for Democrats ever to get back into the majority is to demonstrate that we can make Congress work, and we can join with others to solve problems.

SEABROOK: Hoyer says he already has the votes to win the leadership seat. To which other Democrats say: Not so fast.

California's Barbara Lee heads the Congressional Black Caucus.

Representative BARBARA LEE (Democrat, California): It's absolutely essential that the Democratic Party reflect the constituencies and the concerns of all people in the country.

SEABROOK: Lee says African-Americans and other minorities have fought long and hard for a seat in those closed leadership meetings, and they'll fight to keep Jim Clyburn in the whip position. Voting him out, says Lee, would be a step backward for the party and the country.

Of course, there's no reason this contest has to pit Hoyer against Clyburn. Some Democrats would like to see a fresh face in the leadership, some new ideas.

But if most want to keep their current leaders Pelosi at the top and the current number four guy, John Larson of Connecticut they force themselves to choose between the one African-American in the Democratic leadership and the one moderate.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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