By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 14, 2006
Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) jumped into the race for House majority leader yesterday, hoping to force the two better-known candidates to embrace a stronger message of change and a legislative agenda that returns the GOP to its small-government roots.
Shadegg's entry scrambled the leadership race on a day when the public interest group Public Citizen fired a broadside at the apparent front-runner, House majority whip and acting majority leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), and his close ties to lobbyists. Shadegg also opened up a new post for the Feb. 2 leadership election, resigning as Republican Policy Committee chairman and pointedly declaring it inappropriate "to try to retain one position in our elected leadership while running for another."
That raised the pressure on Blunt to relinquish the majority whip's office, which would ensure an election for a post already being sought by four candidates.
"In the past decade, particularly recently, we seem to have lost sight of our ideals," the conservative Shadegg wrote in a letter to his colleagues. "I believe that in order to reconnect with the American people, and retain and grow our Republican Majority in the House, we need to recommit to our principles."
Those principles include a smaller federal government, a ceding of power to the states and lower taxes, Shadegg said.
In an interview this week, Shadegg said he could not compete with the vote-winning operation of Blunt or Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. But Shadegg said he believes a bloc of House Republicans is not convinced either Blunt or Boehner represents true change in the face of a growing lobbying and bribery scandal.
Hours after his announcement, Shadegg picked up the endorsement of the Club for Growth, a conservative political action committee; two conservative publications; and one of the House's young conservative firebrands, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.). A conservative House aide said that fewer than half of the 100-plus members of the conservative Republican Study Committee have declared for either Boehner or Blunt. All three candidates will make presentations at a Baltimore retreat of conservative lawmakers before the election.
If Shadegg does not win enough votes to propel him to the second-highest position in the House Republican Conference, he still may gain enough to deny Blunt or Boehner outright victory in the first round of voting. If he finishes third, Shadegg will not be able to run in the second round, but he could extract policy promises for his endorsement, advisers to Blunt and Boehner say.
Shadegg's entry in the race for majority leader "is further proof the Conference isn't happy with the status quo," Boehner said in a statement. "Between the two of us, we're going to make this race about reforming how the House does business and providing a real alternative to the status quo."
Public Citizen also took a swipe at what it contends is the status quo, declaring Blunt "unfit for leadership." Its 48-page report cites nearly $429,000 in contributions Blunt received from lobbyists since 1999; $485,485 that Blunt's campaign committees paid between 1999 and 2002 to the Alexander Strategy Group, which was linked to lobbyist Jack Abramoff and is going out of business; and at least 140 subsidized flights on corporate jets that Blunt and Blunt-supported candidates have taken since 2001.
Blunt spokeswoman Burson Taylor dismissed such allegations as a rehash of old charges, saying House Republicans are not likely to take notice of a report written by an organization led by a partisan Democrat, as she characterized Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook, who served in the Carter administration.
Lobbying ties -- Blunt's and Boehner's -- have become a major concern in the election battle and helped draw Shadegg into the contest. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and several House Democrats have offered proposals on lobbying, while Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) suggested this week that his forthcoming package could include a ban on lobbyist-funded travel.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) is planning to unveil soon an ethics and lobbying proposal that would bar lawmakers from accepting from outsiders privately funded travel or gifts, such as meals and tickets to sporting events. A staffer confirmed a Fox News Channel report that Frist is considering a wide-ranging measure with the intention of passing it soon after the Senate returns to work in a few weeks.
The Frist plan would also restrict lobbying by the relatives of lawmakers, end the ability of former lawmakers to enter the Senate floor, and make it a criminal offense to violate some lobbying prohibitions.
In addition, Frist is considering making narrowly focused appropriations called earmarks more difficult, canceling the pensions of lawmakers or staff aides convicted of a felony, and tightening conflict-of-interest rules for departing congressional officials.
Staff writer Jeffrey H. Birnbaum contributed to this report.