Video: Boehner new House majority leader

updated 2/2/2006 5:51:06 PM ET 2006-02-02T22:51:06

House Republicans elected Rep. John Boehner of Ohio as majority leader Thursday, choosing a self-proclaimed reform candidate to replace indicted Rep. Tom DeLay as the party struggles with an ethics scandal.

"I'm humbled by the support of my colleagues to be new majority leader of the house," Boehner said.

"I never came here to be a congressman," he said. "I came here to solve the problems that the American people face every day."

Boehner defeated the front-runner, Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, after finishing behind him in the initial round of voting Thursday.

While Boehner has had feuds with DeLay, Blunt was close to the former majority leader and had served as his top deputy.

Blunt remains the GOP whip. "Believe me, the world goes on," he said.

"We have a great leadership team," Blunt said. "We're going to work to make the Congress better, more importantly we're going to work to make the country better, and I look forward to working with John Boehner as majority leader to make that happen."

‘Fresh face’
Boehner defeated Blunt 122-109 after lagging behind his rival in a first, inconclusive vote of GOP House members. The third contender — John Shadegg of Arizona — withdrew after finishing last in the initial round.

Boehner campaigned as a candidate of reform and said his experience as chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee had demonstrated his ability to pass major legislation.

Blunt had been a temporary stand-in for DeLay, who is charged with campaign finance violations in Texas.

After the vote, Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., called Boehner “a fresh face.”

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“It wouldn’t be credible for the same leaders to be advocating change,” Flake said, adding he hoped Blunt would stay on as whip, third-ranking in the leadership.

Shedding the smell of scandal
Republicans are at a political crossroads as they work to avoid the taint of scandal from investigations that have already led to the conviction and resignation of Rep. Randy Cunningham, R-Calif.  In addition, Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, faces scrutiny in a wide-ranging congressional corruption investigation symbolized by lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Blunt’s position in leadership had made him the front-runner, but he ended seven votes short of the necessary majority on a first-round secret ballot. He had 110 votes, and Boehner had 79.
Shadegg received 40, and Rep. Jim Ryun of Kansas, who was not an announced candidate, got two votes.

After Shadegg and Ryun dropped out, Boehner won his second-ballot victory.

It was the most contested election among House Republicans since the upheaval that followed ethics allegations and election losses in 1998. Eight years later, the GOP hopes to avoid political reversals in midterm elections as it contends with ethics problems anew.

The secret-ballot election capped a 24-day campaign in which Blunt sought to convert his experience as majority whip and DeLay’s temporary stand-in into a permanent promotion.

“This is not a party stuck in neutral,” he said as the race began, dismissing a claim made by Boehner. “This is an opportunity for reform.”

Boehner and Shadegg both cast themselves as outsiders, better positioned to revive Republican spirits and political fortunes in the wake of the Abramoff lobbying scandal.

Democrats watched with interest, ready to pounce on the winner.

“No matter who Republicans elect, it’s easy to show they’re supporting more of the same ... part of the same pay-to-play system that’s made Washington the mess that it is right now,” said Bill Burton, a spokesman for the House Democratic campaign organization.

The three Republican rivals, all 56, have carved out different careers in the House.

Blunt, who represents a district in southwestern Missouri, had just won his second term in 1998 when DeLay, R-Texas, tapped him to take a place at the leadership table as chief deputy whip.

The two men each moved up one rung on the leadership ladder in 2003 and have worked closely together for years. Jim Ellis, a consultant who was indicted with DeLay last year on campaign fund-raising charges, also works for Blunt’s political action committee. He has denied all wrongdoing.

Boehner’s comeback
Unlike either of his rivals, Boehner came to Congress when Democrats held a majority, and he joined the Gang of Seven, a group of energetic young lawmakers eager to draw attention to a scandal involving the House bank and Democrats.

Boehner won a place in leadership when Republicans gained a majority in 1994, a position that kept him in frequent contact with lobbyists.

But he and DeLay soon clashed, and Boehner lost his leadership post four years later. Boehner became chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee in 2001, and he helped shepherd President Bush’s No Child Left Behind education bill through the House.

Shadegg came to Congress from the Phoenix area in 1994, part of the large contingent of newcomers who cemented the first Republican majority in 40 years. He showed an interest in health care and other policy issues, and won election in 2000 as head of an organization of House conservatives, now known as the Republican Study Committee. He later was elected to a junior leadership post.

DeLay, who has denied any wrongdoing, is awaiting trial in his home state on the campaign finance charges he has repeatedly denounced as politically inspired.

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