[Mb-civic] Corruption Scandals Cast Shadow on GOP Leadership Race -
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Mon Jan 30 03:46:16 PST 2006
Corruption Scandals Cast Shadow on GOP Leadership Race
By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 30, 2006; A01
In eight concise paragraphs, two moderate and two conservative House
Republicans put into writing last week what they say many of their
colleagues quietly fear: the GOP's plunging poll numbers, rising public
support for a Congress controlled by Democrats and the increasing belief
among voters that the Republican Party is corrupt.
House Republicans will gather Thursday to elect a successor to Rep. Tom
DeLay (R-Tex.) as majority leader, and the perceptions of corruption,
though "neither fair nor accurate . . . are reality," Reps. Jim Kolbe
(Ariz.), Charles Bass (N.H.), Paul Ryan (Wis.) and Tom Feeney (Fla.)
wrote in a letter to their colleagues, imploring them to vote for
change. "We must realize that the Majority we have all worked so hard
for is in jeopardy."
It is not clear how widespread such fear is on Capitol Hill, with
Congress in recess, but it has shaped the campaigns of Reps. John A.
Boehner (R-Ohio) and John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) as they try to derail the
front-runner -- Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the majority whip and acting
majority leader -- in a race that has taken on enormous significance.
Blunt aides insist that their boss, running as the candidate of
continuity and proven leadership, already has the race wrapped up, with
more than enough committed supporters to hand him a swift victory on the
first ballot. Blunt's chief deputy whip, Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.), has
said he also has the votes to move up to the whip's job, if Blunt
vacates the post to become majority leader.
But supporters of Blunt's opponents say the acting majority leader has
stumbled badly in recent days, as Boehner and Shadegg push to turn the
leadership contest into a referendum on how seriously the party is
taking a corruption scandal that has already led to the conviction of
one Republican House member and former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff. A
vote for Blunt to succeed the indicted DeLay and, for that matter,
Cantor to succeed Blunt as whip, would send precisely the wrong message,
supporters of Boehner and Shadegg say.
The scandal is "a big problem, a broadening problem," said Rep. Thaddeus
McCotter (R-Mich.), a Boehner supporter. "And at the end of the day, I
don't think the Republican Party should say, 'It is so big we've decided
to promote everybody.' "
An internal leadership race is often won or lost not on big themes such
as reform and continuity but on personal relationships and promises made
to individual lawmakers. But this week's contest may be different, say
strategists for all three candidates. It is taking shape before a
backdrop of scandal and in an election year when Democrats see their
best chance of regaining control of the House in years.
A Blunt victory probably would keep the year's legislative agenda
focused on themes already voiced by the existing leadership team:
immigration law changes, a restructuring of congressional lobbying rules
and fiscal discipline. A victory by either Boehner or Shadegg could lead
to a significant change of direction, fortifying conservative forces
that want to radically curtail home-district pork-barrel spending, cut
down the size of government and resume pushing power to state and local
Boehner and Shadegg both say they can win the campaign outright, but an
unspoken alliance between the two appears aimed at denying Blunt a
majority vote in the first round of voting. The third-place finisher
could then endorse the runner-up to defeat Blunt in the next round of
The two have put out joint statements calling on Blunt to appear live
with them on television for a debate. And virtually every statement from
Shadegg, from the announcement that he had joined the race to each
endorsement of the Arizonan, has been followed by statement from Boehner
praising Shadegg. After Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), the chairman of the
House's conservative Republican Study Committee, threw his support to
Shadegg Jan. 19, Boehner all but declared it a victory.
"Mike's decision to endorse one of the reform candidates in this race
instead of endorsing the incumbent is further evidence that a majority
of our conference wants a change in the status quo," Boehner said. "As I
said days ago when John Shadegg entered the race, between the two of us,
we're going to make this a race about reform."
Blunt's supporters say the drumbeat for "reform" smacks of unnecessary
"Clearly, Blunt has demonstrated great leadership; Cantor has, too,"
Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) said. "Are we saying we don't trust anyone in
our leadership? That makes the case that everybody in Washington is on
the take, that we're all corrupt."
Foley said Blunt's genial demeanor and professorial smarts would make
him a strong face for the party in an election year. And he is a proven
vote-getter: Through heartfelt entreaties and strong arguments, Blunt
persuaded Foley to buck the interests of the Florida sugar industry and
vote for the Central American Free Trade Agreement last year.
"I just feel a high degree of comfort and confidence in his leadership
ability," said Rep. Candice S. Miller (R-Mich.).
Beneath such public testimonials is a hard-fought campaign with a rich
share of mudslinging. Boehner supporters have been happy to point out
Blunt's ample ties to DeLay and, by association, to Abramoff.
Blunt's campaign committees paid Alexander Strategy Group -- a lobbying
firm started by top DeLay aides with close ties to Abramoff -- $485,485
between 1999 and 2002 to start up a Blunt political action committee.
His meteoric rise from president of Southwest Baptist University to
House freshman in 1996 to chief deputy whip in 1999 to whip in 2002 was
orchestrated in large part by DeLay. And opponents say he has followed
his mentor's lead, creating a web of links to K Street that rivals DeLay
Inc. His longtime chief of staff, Gregg Hartley, has helped coordinate
his campaign for majority leader from the lobbying suites of Cassidy &
Blunt supporters have been just as willing to sully his rivals, painting
them as no cleaner than Blunt and a lot less experienced. If neither
Boehner nor Shadegg can present himself as a credible reform candidate,
Blunt's institutional advantages will have few counterpoints.
In one recent fax blasted around Washington, a Boehner opponent sneered
at the Ohioan's support from conservative commentators, saying they were
ignoring Boehner's own links to lobbyists, especially those from one of
his biggest financial supporters, student loan giant Sallie Mae.
"George Will and Tony Snow get positively dreamy when they talk about
prospective House Majority Leader John Boehner," said the fax from
Californian Nancy Rivas. "They say he has never used an 'earmark' to get
goodies for his Ohio district. That's because he doesn't really
represent them anymore. He is the Congressman from Sallie Mae."
Boehner was first elected in 1990 and quickly made a name for himself
when he and six other young Republicans insisted on identifying all 355
House members who had overdrafts from the House bank. He became a
lieutenant of Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and rode Gingrich's
coattails to GOP leadership when Republicans took control of the House
in 1995 and Gingrich became the speaker.
But Gingrich's fall in 1998 took Boehner with him. He lost his post as
conference chairman, then regrouped as chairman of the House Education
and the Workforce Committee, plotting the return to leadership that he
has now begun.
Shadegg, who has framed his entire candidacy around a clean break from
the status quo, has also come under criticism. His chief of staff, Elise
Finley, is a former lobbyist for the giant utility Southern Co.
With 92 declared supporters, Blunt remains the favorite, well ahead of
Boehner's 49 declared supporters and Shadegg's 16. But House members and
advisers say the race remains more open than it looks.
All three candidates will make presentations to a gathering of
conservative House members in Baltimore today. The House returns
tomorrow for President Bush's State of the Union address, the first time
most members will have the chance to discuss the race among themselves.
Then on Wednesday, the full Republican Conference will gather in closed
session to question the candidates and offer motions on the election
Thursday. That is when a majority could move to open all five leadership
posts to election or force Blunt to relinquish his post as majority whip
before running for majority leader. Later that day, the House will take
a final vote on a measure to cut spending on entitlement programs such
as Medicaid by nearly $50 billion over five years. As whip, it is
Blunt's job to deliver the votes, and it will be close.
All those gatherings are hurdles for the front-runner, lawmakers and
"Blunt seems to be stumbling," said one Republican House member, who
spoke on the condition of anonymity. "If he's wrong on his own whip
count, maybe he's lost touch."
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