Image: Tom DeLay
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Three Republicans have called for a permanent replacement for former House Majority Leader Tom Delay, R-Texas.
updated 1/6/2006 6:11:32 PM ET 2006-01-06T23:11:32

Embattled Rep. Tom DeLay’s hopes of reclaiming his post as House majority leader suffered a setback Friday as fellow Republicans called for new leadership in the midst of a congressional corruption scandal.

Days after lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty in courtrooms in two cities, a pair of GOP lawmakers circulated a petition calling for elections to pick a permanent replacement for DeLay. The Texas lawmaker temporarily relinquished his leadership post last year following indictment on campaign finance charges in his home state.

Separately, Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., said there was no room in the leadership for DeLay.

“The situation is that Tom’s legal situation doesn’t seem to be reaching clarity,” Kline told The Associated Press. “There are stories of more indictments or questions associated with Jack Abramoff. And I think that Tom DeLay is going to have to concentrate on that.”

Spokesman Kevin Madden said DeLay “appreciates that a majority of his colleagues recognizes that he remains committed to fulfilling his responsibilities as majority leader and that he’ll be quickly exonerated in Texas.”

“And he appreciates that a majority of his colleagues won’t give in to what is essentially character assassination by insinuation,” Madden said.

Replacement election might be held
Rep. Roy Blunt, who is formally the GOP whip, has been filling in as DeLay’s temporary replacement.

Republican rules permit an election to fill the vacancy, and aides to Reps. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Charles Bass of New Hampshire said the two men were circulating a petition that would allow the rank-and-file to pick new leadership quickly.

If elections are held, Blunt is expected to run for the post. Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, a former member of the leadership, is a likely rival, and there may be other candidates, as well.

DeLay has long insisted he is innocent of the charges in Texas and has repeatedly accused the prosecutor, Ronnie Earle, of conducting a political vendetta. Fellow House Republicans have seemed willing to give the longtime lawmaker until the end of January to clear his name, deciding to allow Blunt to function as a caretaker until then.

But Abramoff’s guilty pleas earlier this week seem to have changed the political environment.

“That has brought home the fact that we need not just new leaders but a course correction,” Flake said.

Ties to Abramoff
Abramoff frequently had stressed his ties to DeLay in the course of seeking business from prospective lobbying clients, and had hired a number of former DeLay aides as employees. One of them, Michael Scanlon, pleaded guilty last November as part of the same investigation that led to Abramoff’s confession of guilt this week.

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According to papers filed in court, Abramoff paid the wife of another DeLay aide $50,000 over several months as part of an effort to kill legislation opposed by his lobbying clients.

Under GOP rules, the signatures of 50 lawmakers on a petition would be sufficient to trigger a leadership election.

Alternatively, DeLay could decide on his own to renounce his claim on the leadership post he left last year, or Speaker Dennis Hastert could throw his support behind elections, making any petition a mere formality.

Burson Taylor, an aide to Blunt, declined to comment on the developments.

David Schnittger, a spokesman for Boehner, said, “A number of members have approached Congressman Boehner in recent weeks and months. He hasn’t approached them. He’s not running a campaign and hasn’t asked for a single vote.”

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