Washington Eager to project a fresh face amid some embarrassing scandals, Republicans in the House of Representatives shook up their top ranks Thursday and signaled their desire to shift away from their recent immersion in special interest pork-barrel politics.
The House Republicans elected Ohio Rep. John Boehner as their majority leader, defeating Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt, who'd been favored as the incumbent since last fall. The majority leader helps set the party agenda, controls the flow of legislation, assembles votes and often serves as a public spokesman for his party.
While House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., remains in the top job, the rejection of Blunt is a break from the leadership era of Rep. Tom DeLay, the hard-charging Texan known as "the Hammer." DeLay was indicted on charges of laundering campaign money last fall; a burgeoning lobbying scandal forced him to surrender his leadership post. Blunt was a close ally of DeLay's; Boehner was not.
"There was a desire to get as far away from Tom DeLay as possible. Roy Blunt could not overcome his close association with DeLay," said Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo. "The message is that we do want to change. We don't want the perception or the reality that this is a place of corruption."
Boehner (pronounced BAY-nor) declared himself humbled by the outcome. "What you're going to see us do is rededicate ourselves to dealing with issues - big issues - that the American people expect us to deal with," he said.
Republicans have been distracted in recent months by DeLay's indictment by a Texas grand jury, by Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff's guilty plea to charges of corrupting public officials and by former California Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham's admission that he took bribes from defense contractors. They fear the scandals could hurt them in this year's midterm elections.
"We kind of lost our way, we lost our message," said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, a Boehner supporter.