WASHINGTON – The Tom DeLay era ended Thursday as House Republicans picked Ohio Rep. John Boehner as their new majority leader – rejecting a DeLay protégé in favor of a self-proclaimed reform candidate.
Boehner edged out Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri and Arizona conservative John Shadegg, who had vowed to overhaul lobbying rules and rein in federal spending. The winner has been education chairman for five years and hasn’t been especially close to DeLay, R-Texas, who stepped down after being indicted on state money laundering and campaign charges.
“It is an attempt to get away from the DeLay image that is there – whether he’s guilty of anything or not,” said Rep. Joel Hefley of Colorado, the former ethics committee chairman who lost his own post after the panel admonished DeLay in 2004 for various transgressions. “DeLay tried to put his loyalists in every single spot possible. Blunt was his chief deputy whip. … That tie-in was hard for him to overcome.”
Blunt had served as temporary majority leader for four months and will remain whip, the No. 3 job.
Many colleagues sought a fresh face in hopes of undoing the damage from a string of embarrassments: DeLay’s impending trial, the resignation of a California lawmaker caught taking bribes, and the pall cast by the corruption probe that netted former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Boehner arrived in 1990 and made his mark early, joining other GOP freshmen in the “Gang of Seven” who exposed widespread overdrafts at the House bank. He caught the eye of Newt Gingrich, then minority whip, helped draft the 10-point Contract With America and won the fourth-ranking leadership post after the 1994 takeover. He was ousted four years later by a DeLay-backed rival.
Democrats gave him no honeymoon, slamming him as a “lobbyist lap dog” – citing, among other things, a 1995 incident in which he passed out checks from a tobacco PAC to a half-dozen colleagues on the House floor.
“The House Republicans couldn’t afford to elect Roy Blunt, but they weren’t honest enough to elect a real reformer,” said Democratic national chairman Howard Dean.
Said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, “They have replaced Tom Delay’s first lieutenant with Newt Gingrich’s first lieutenant.”
Blunt drew 110 of 232 votes on the first ballot, seven short of victory. Shadegg dropped out and Boehner won 122-109.
The election was set in motion days after the Abramoff plea deal, when a few dozen lawmakers demanded an election to replace DeLay permanently. He gave up his claim on the job the next day.
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