Republicans Friday chose Rep. John Boehner as minority leader, succeeding Speaker Dennis Hastert in the top GOP leadership post for the Democratic-controlled House that convenes in January.
Boehner defeated Indiana conservative Mike Pence. The vote tally was 168-27 with one vote for Texas Rep. Joe Barton. Boehner's election cements the Ohio conservative's resurrection within GOP leadership ranks. His elevation to succeed Hastert as the party's front line leader came despite unrest within the rank and file and a spirited campaign by Pence.
Shortly afterward, Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., won a 137-57 vote to keep his post as whip, which will be the No. 2 GOP job when Republicans become the minority party in January. Blunt is currently the No. 3 House Republican; he defeated Arizona conservative Rep. John Shadegg despite sentiment for fresh leadership faces.
'Contract With America' connection
Boehner succeeded Tom DeLay, R-Texas, as majority leader in February and was easily elevated to replace Hastert, who is leaving the leadership ranks in the wake the Democrats' victory.
Boehner initially rode Rep. Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America" campaign to power when the Republicans won control of the House in the 1994 midterm elections. But he was purged along with Gingrich, R-Ga., in the wake of the party's disappointing performance in the 1998 elections.
"We need to start by rebuilding the Republican brand," Boehner said. "Republicans need to get back to our core principles and rededicate ourselves to the reform mind-set that put us in the majority 12 years ago."
Boehner was elevated despite the GOP's Election Day drubbing in the wake of the Mark Foley congressional page scandal. Boehner was among the few lawmakers to learn of inappropriate e-mails sent by Foley, R-Fla., to a former page from Louisiana.
Boehner testified last month before an ethics panel, telling investigators that he had apprised Hastert last spring of the Foley situation -- a conversation that the speaker says he does not recall
Boehner told his colleagues that he would work to tighten ethical standards in the wake of a series of recent scandals that tarred the GOP: DeLay's indictment in Texas; a guilty plea on corruption charges by Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif.; and another guilty plea by Bob Ney, R-Ohio, on corruption charges in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.
Election recovery efforts
House Republicans are still recovering from the shock of an election in which they lost control of the chamber for the first time in 12 years. Many GOP lawmakers feel the party strayed from its conservative roots and that their leaders fostered a culture in which retaining power seemed more important than sticking with principles.
That was the message carried by Pence, an ambitious religious conservative.
Pence argued that Republicans needed to adopt a new, more aggressive attitude now that the party is entering the minority. He said the lure of power caused them to drift away from principles such as curbing federal spending.
"We did not just lose our majority ... we lost our way," Pence said in a Thursday speech to his colleagues. "We are in the wilderness because we walked away from the limited-government principles that minted the Republican Congress."
But Boehner's allies noted that he came to Congress in 1991 and worked with Gingrich to help rid the party of a mindset that Republicans were a permanent minority.
"John Boehner has the courage, vision, patience, and experience to lead us back to the majority," said Rep. Jim McCrery, R-La., as he nominated Boehner for leader. "How do I know this? Because he's done it before."
Democrats, for their part, are focusing on healing the wounds from a rancorous battle for their No. 2 leadership post, a struggle in which Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., defeated a rival backed by Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
The battle between Hoyer and John Murtha, D-Pa., appeared to overshadow Pelosi's unanimous selection by Democrats to become the first female speaker when Democrats take control of the House in January. Pelosi had aggressively backed top ally Murtha over Hoyer, with whom she has long had a testy relationship.
But each of the combatants said they would bury the hatchet and promised a unified Democratic leadership once the party assumes the majority for the first time in a dozen years.
Hoyer received a congratulatory call late Thursday from President Bush, who was traveling in Asia, Bush press secretary Tony Snow told reporters on Air Force One.
On the Republican side, there were a host of other races Friday for lesser leadership posts. Most prominently, Adam Putnam of Florida appeared poised to assume the No. 3 position of conference chair.
Hoyer, 67, a 25-year veteran of Congress, defeated Murtha by a vote of 149-86.
"Let the healing begin," Pelosi said after Hoyer's victory.
Earlier, after fellow Democrats selected her to become speaker in January, Pelosi told her colleagues: "We made history and now we will make progress for the American people."
She pledged that, after 12 years in the minority, "we will not be dazzled by money and special interests."