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After Abramoff, a GOP Scramble

DeLay remains determined to reclaim his leadership position, and he is confident that he will be exonerated in Texas before early February, DeLay spokesman Kevin Madden said yesterday. But there are few others who share that optimism, even among leadership members and aides who only weeks ago expressed the same confidence.

Since DeLay's indictment, Blunt has served as both House majority whip and acting majority leader.

The Missourian would enter a leadership election as the favorite to take DeLay's place as majority leader. And he has said his position in the Republican conference was significantly strengthened last month when he successfully steered through the House a $50 billion budget-cutting measure, legislation cracking down on illegal immigration and a provision forcing a 1 percent across-the-board cut in all discretionary spending outside of veterans programs.

But other members, particularly committee chairmen, are stressing the leadership's blunders, including the embarrassing defeat of a spending bill funding labor, health and education programs, and the initial pulling of the budget measure from House consideration for lack of votes.

Boehner has been angling for a top job for most of his eight terms in the House. In the early 1990s, he belonged to a group of young Republican crusaders who sought to publicize the names of more than 350 members with overdrafts at the House bank -- setting off a major political scandal. He rode on Newt Gingrich's coattails to rise in the Republican leadership, but he lost his job as conference chairman when the Gingrich era ended, after GOP losses in the 1998 midterm elections.

Rather than retreat, however, Boehner moved into a new realm, rising in 2000 to become chairman of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, where he earned praise from Republicans and Democrats alike for his handling of the No Child Left Behind education legislation.

But Boehner's record has some blemishes that could be used against him by his opponents. In 1995, Boehner raised eyebrows by distributing campaign checks from tobacco lobbyists on the House floor. Since 2000, his political action committee, the Freedom Project, has raised $31,500 from four of Abramoff's tribal clients.

Such concerns could provide an opening for supporters of Pence or Shadegg. Alternatively, some leadership sources say discontented GOP members could draft a more experienced lawmaker, such as House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (Calif.), who would have the weight of his powerful panel and his big state delegation behind him. Appropriations Committee spokesman John Scofield dismissed such speculation, saying Lewis "likes the job he has."

Blunt's move for the position of majority leader would leave Chief Deputy Whip Eric I. Cantor (Va.) with a chance to claim the whip's post. But Cantor, too, would likely draw opposition.

One leadership source close to DeLay said some members hope to draft Rep. Mike Rogers (Mich.), a former FBI agent who specialized in public corruption cases, for that post to signal that the party is taking the Abramoff scandal seriously.

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