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What shake-up? House GOP keeps its leaders

Times Staff Writer

After an electoral shellacking widely seen as a message for change in Washington, House Republicans on Friday decided to stick with much the same leadership team as they adjusted to becoming the chamber’s minority.

The GOP lawmakers elected Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio as minority leader and Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri as minority whip, rejecting challenges to each by conservatives.

The challengers offered themselves as better able to recommit the party to fiscal discipline, contending that the GOP had strayed from this tenet during its 12-year control of the House.

Boehner and Blunt won their races by resounding margins.

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Boehner, the current majority leader, said he hoped to hold the minority leader’s job “for as short a time as possible.”

Job No. 1 for him, he said, would be to “earn our way back” into the majority -- which probably would make him the leading contender for House speaker.

He said he would pursue a GOP rebound by seeking a return to the party’s core principles, including lower taxes and smaller government.

“The rebuilding begins now,” Boehner said.

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As majority leader, Boehner has been No. 2 in the House GOP to Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois.

Hastert, bruised by allegations that he ignored early warnings of the sex scandal that drove Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) from office, decided not to seek a leadership position after his party’s election losses. That cleared the way for Boehner, who turned 57 Friday, to become Republican leader.

Blunt, 56, is the current majority whip.

The rank and file’s decision to stick with Boehner and Blunt upset some conservatives who thought the party needed a shake-up after losing the House and Senate.

“We’re still in denial, I guess,” said Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who backed the bid by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) to topple Boehner.

In the closed-door vote, Boehner defeated Pence, 168 to 27.

Comments by some House Republicans indicated Boehner benefited from being a relatively new member of the party’s top echelon -- he became majority leader in February after former Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas was forced to give up the post amid legal problems.

Blunt defeated Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona, 137 to 57, in the contest for the House GOP’s No. 2 spot in the Congress that convenes in January.

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Flake and other conservatives pushing for a change of leaders said it would have sent a strong signal to disaffected Republicans that after the midterm results, “We got it.”

Outside Congress, some conservative activists reacted harshly to the results of the leadership races.

“House Republicans have decided to reward failure,” Richard A. Viguerie, a specialist in raising money for conservative causes, said in a statement.

Boehner supporters countered that he understood the need for change in the party’s direction.

“We can’t be like we were,” Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) said. “We got in this rut by being more worried about money and power than the principles that brought us here ... and everybody who gets elected today [as leaders] heard that loud and clear.”

Boehner (pronounced BAY-ner) is a former chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce who worked with Democrats on the panel to pass major legislation.

As majority leader, he has won praise from some conservatives for trying to curb the controversial practice of earmarking -- adding spending provisions for local projects to bills, often at the last minute and without public notice.

In campaigning for his leadership job, Boehner noted that as the minority, Republicans would no longer enjoy a number of political advantages, such as controlling the agenda and chairing committees.

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“We’ll need to be innovators instead of gatekeepers; to offer principled and creative responses to Democrat agenda items; to develop and communicate initiatives that our voters find compelling enough to return us to majority control,” he said in a letter to colleagues. “We’ll need to hold the Democrats accountable for their votes....”

He added: “We’ll need to work harder at listening to each other, because without unity, there will be no success.”

Rep. Adam H. Putnam of Florida was elected House Republican Conference chairman, the party’s third-ranking leadership position. Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma was chosen to head the House Republican campaign committee; in that post, he’ll assume the responsibility of trying to win back the chamber in 2008.

“We’re going to have some fresh faces at the table,” said Rep. Joe L. Barton (R-Texas), who briefly entered the race for minority leader but then dropped out. “And some of the old faces are going to have some fresh ideas.”

The GOP leadership elections came the day after House Democrats nominated Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco to be speaker in the next Congress and chose Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland to be majority leader.

richard.simon@latimes.com


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