GOP Chooses Boehner As Minority Leader

The Associated Press
Friday, November 17, 2006; 12:58 PM

WASHINGTON -- Republicans Friday chose Rep. John Boehner as minority leader, succeeding Speaker Dennis Hastert in the top GOP leadership post for the Democratic-controlled House that convenes in January.

Boehner defeated Indiana conservative Mike Pence. The vote tally was 168-27 with one vote for Texas Rep. Joe Barton. Boehner's election cements the Ohio conservative's resurrection within GOP leadership ranks. His elevation to succeed Hastert as the party's front line leader came despite unrest within the rank and file after the loss of at least 29 seats to Democrats in last week's elections.

Shortly afterward, Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., won a 137-57 vote to keep his post as whip, which will be the No. 2 GOP job when Republicans become the minority party in January. Blunt is currently the No. 3 House Republican; he defeated Arizona conservative Rep. John Shadegg despite sentiment for fresh leadership faces and concerns that Republicans had strayed from their conservative principles.

"Our conference has come together with an appreciation for the opportunity to re-define who we are, to provide the kind of alternatives that we want to provide to look toward the future _ frankly, to get rid of the bad habits that we may have developed in 12 years in the majority," Blunt said Friday as the new GOP team appeared at a post-election news conference.

Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., who backed Boehner but not Blunt said that "everybody on this leadership team understands we've got to go back to our roots."

Boehner succeeded Tom DeLay, R-Texas, as majority leader in February and was easily elevated to replace Hastert, who is leaving the leadership ranks in the wake the Democrats' victory.

Boehner initially rode Rep. Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America" campaign to power when the Republicans won control of the House in the 1994 midterm elections. But he was purged along with Gingrich, R-Ga., in the wake of the party's disappointing performance in the 1998 elections.

"We need to fight for a smaller, less costly and more accountable federal government," Boehner said after the vote. "We're going to work as a team, and we are going to earn our way back into our majority."

Boehner was elevated despite the GOP's Election Day drubbing in the wake of the Mark Foley congressional page scandal. Boehner was among the few lawmakers to learn of inappropriate e-mails sent by Foley, R-Fla., to a former page from Louisiana.

Boehner testified last month before an ethics panel, telling investigators that he had apprised Hastert last spring of the Foley situation _ a conversation that the speaker says he does not recall

Boehner told his colleagues that he would work to tighten ethical standards in the wake of a series of recent scandals that tarred the GOP: DeLay's indictment in Texas; a guilty plea on corruption charges by Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif.; and another guilty plea by Bob Ney, R-Ohio, on corruption charges in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

House Republicans are still recovering from the shock of an election in which they lost control of the chamber for the first time in 12 years. Many GOP lawmakers feel the party strayed from its conservative roots and that their leaders fostered a culture in which retaining power seemed more important than sticking with principles.

That was the message carried by Pence, an ambitious religious conservative.

Pence argued that Republicans needed to adopt a new, more aggressive attitude now that the party is entering the minority. He said the lure of power caused them to drift away from principles such as curbing federal spending.

"We did not just lose our majority ... we lost our way," Pence said in a Thursday speech to his colleagues. "We are in the wilderness because we walked away from the limited-government principles that minted the Republican Congress."

But Boehner's allies noted that he came to Congress in 1991 and worked with Gingrich to help rid the party of a mind-set that Republicans were a permanent minority.

"John Boehner has the courage, vision, patience, and experience to lead us back to the majority," said Rep. Jim McCrery, R-La., as he nominated Boehner for leader. "How do I know this? Because he's done it before."

Democrats, for their part, are focusing on healing the wounds from a rancorous battle for their No. 2 leadership post, a struggle in which Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., defeated a rival backed by Pelosi.

The battle between Hoyer and John Murtha, D-Pa., appeared to overshadow Pelosi's unanimous selection by Democrats to become the first female speaker when Democrats take control of the House in January. Pelosi had aggressively backed top ally Murtha over Hoyer, with whom she has long had a testy relationship.

But each of the combatants said they would bury the hatchet and promised a unified Democratic leadership once the party assumes the majority for the first time in a dozen years.

On the Republican side, there were a host of other races Friday for lesser leadership posts. Most prominently, 32 year-old Adam Putnam of Florida won election to the No. 3 position of conference chair.

Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma won a three-way battle to take over as House GOP campaign chair.

Hoyer, 67, a 25-year veteran of Congress, defeated Murtha by a vote of 149-86.

"Let the healing begin," Pelosi said after Hoyer's victory.

© 2006 The Associated Press