Correction to This Article
A Sept. 30 article incorrectly said that Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the new House majority leader, moved into the Capitol office of former majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). Blunt assumed control of the office and its staff but did not physically relocate to the office.

A Scramble To Fill Vacuum Left by DeLay

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By Jim VandeHei and Amy Goldstein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 30, 2005

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert told Rep. Tom DeLay yesterday that DeLay will keep a prominent leadership role even after his indictment, a pledge that came as the powerful Texan's departure as majority leader touched off a scramble by other Republicans hoping to gain influence from his absence.

The new majority leader, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), moved into his new Capitol suite, consigning DeLay to smaller quarters for rank-and-file members across the street at the Cannon Office Building. But Hastert, at an early-morning meeting, assured DeLay that his reduced status will not mean sharply reduced influence in running the caucus and setting the party's course for the 2006 elections, Republicans familiar with the session said.

As DeLay fights charges that he was involved in a fundraising conspiracy, Hastert told him that he will remain among the speaker's closest advisers. Significantly, DeLay's large staff will remain on the majority leader's payroll -- working for Blunt, but also in position to keep watch on him. DeLay will no longer attend leadership meetings.

With DeLay's future uncertain, several GOP lawmakers signaled their eagerness to move into leadership posts. Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) was the first to raise his hand, vowing to run for majority whip, the number three leadership post, and to challenge Rep. Eric I. Cantor (Va.), who is assisting with the job on an interim basis. Other possible candidates include Reps. John A. Boehner (Ohio), Mike Pence (Ind.) and Mike Rogers (Mich.), lawmakers said.

Blunt, a former DeLay protege who has told colleagues he wants to be speaker one day, emerged as the winner in this week's shake-up -- at least so far. But there were clear indications that he is rubbing some of his colleagues the wrong way.

Several lawmakers, who said they could speak candidly only on the condition of anonymity, said the 55-year-old former teacher has a reputation for being too overtly ambitious, and must work hard to win over skeptical colleagues. "He's the kind of guy always looking over your shoulder when you are talking to him," looking for something better, a top House Republican leader said.

With competing ambitions, Hastert "is very aware of the tensions developing that he is going to have to deal with," said Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.). "Folks are looking to see if they can get into leadership."

Around Capitol Hill yesterday, most Republicans spent the day appealing to their colleagues for unity to hold the party together through one of the most difficult periods of its decade-long reign.

"Members know this is a very difficult moment -- if we don't hang together we fall apart," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.).

To stave off leadership races that would expose political and philosophical fissures inside the party, Hastert has persuaded members to buy into his short-term plan to allow Blunt take over DeLay's job by acclamation, in case the Texas Republican can return. Blunt also retains his position as majority whip.

But short-term harmony came at a price. In private conversations with GOP lawmakers, he promised to revisit the new leadership structure in January, and to allow new leadership elections if 50 members sign a petition calling for changes.

"I don't think anyone expects Mr. Blunt to hold two positions for the next 15 months," until the next Congress begins, Wamp said. "I believe that means having an election to have a separate person for each position in leadership." Wamp is not considered a major player in the party and might have trouble winning a leadership race, particularly against Cantor.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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