Republicans rush to replace DeLay

By Andrew Taylor The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The campaign to succeed Tom DeLay as House majority leader intensified yesterday as Reps. Roy Blunt of Missouri and John Boehner of Ohio telephoned rank-and-file GOP lawmakers seeking support. Both Republicans claimed progress and released names of supporters.

The race for the leadership post occurred as Speaker Dennis Hastert and other senior Republicans in the House scrambled to come up with an ethics and lobbying reform package as they try to blunt the impact of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and DeLay’s indictment on campaign money laundering charges.

Blunt and Boehner maneuvered for support as Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia claimed the votes needed to move up the ladder to the Republicans’ No. 3 job in the House as party whip when leadership elections are held early next month.

His spokesman, Rob Collins, said Cantor “has 140 firm commitments” of support from the House’s 231 Republicans but declined to provide a list.

Blunt has been serving as both whip and acting majority leader since the end of September, when DeLay surrendered his leadership. Cantor has been serving as deputy whip under Blunt.

Hastert, R-Ill., canceled an overseas trip because of the ethics concerns raised by DeLay’s legal problems and the growing influence-peddling scandal involving Abramoff, the lobbyist who has plead guilty to charges of conspiring to corrupting a lawmaker and other government officials.

Hastert directed House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., to draft a lobbying reform measure for speedy approval after Congress returns at the end of this month.

“With these guilty pleas and all off the stuff that’s come to the forefront, we know that this is an issue that needs to be addressed,” said Dreier. “We need to do all that we can to enhance the deliberation and the transparency and the accountability of this institution.”

Dreier said he is interested in proposals to require faster reporting of spending on lobbying, greater disclosure of lobbying activities including travel arranged or financed by lobbyists, and a requirement for lawmakers to pay fair market value for travel on private aircraft and tickets to sporting or entertainment events.

Despite Cantor’s claim, two more Republicans jumped into the race for party whip: Reps. Todd Tiahrt of Kansas and Mike Rogers of Michigan. Also in that race is Rep. Zach Wamp of Tennessee.

“We can go with the status quo, which could lead down the road to the minority, or we can take a different path,” Tiahrt said.

Boehner issued a list of 13 supporters. Blunt countered with 22 names, but it appeared the race was still in its early phase.

“We need new leadership at the leadership table. We need a new voice, new ideas, and a fresh perspective,” said Rep. Anne Northup, R-Ky., a Boehner supporter.

In a campaign manifesto sent to House Republicans, Boehner said among Republicans “morale is low … It’s time to bounce back.”

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said Blunt has earned the No. 2 job by shepherding a package of spending cuts and other legislation through the House since taking over for DeLay.

Blunt, 56, is a protege of DeLay, who named him a deputy whip in 1999.

But Boehner, also 56, is no stranger to leadership positions. Elected to Congress in 1990, he rose quickly in GOP ranks and was elected head of the House Republican Conference, the No. 4 position in the party, in 1994 – only to be ousted from the post four years later when the party did poorly in the elections.