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House Republicans ponder future

Moving day for DeLay; questions about Blunt

From Ted Barrett
CNN Washington Bureau

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Rep. Tom DeLay stepped down Wednesday as House majority leader, following party rules.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As Rep. Tom DeLay began moving out of his leadership suite in the Capitol to his smaller district office in the Cannon Building, his Republican colleagues in the House began pondering a future without "The Hammer" as majority leader.

"Everyone is rooting for Tom DeLay," said Rep. Zach Wamp, a conservative Republican from Tennessee. But, "the reality of the ordeal he faces is not as rosy as everyone's hopes and aspirations," he said.

Wamp is one of several Republicans considering a jump into the leadership ranks now that DeLay has stepped aside, at least temporarily, to face a corruption charge.

While, technically, there are no leadership openings, some lawmakers -- even those who have been fiercely loyal to DeLay -- expressed doubts about whether the 11-term Texan will return to his leadership post, or even stay in office after next year.

One senior GOP lawmaker noted that DeLay will have to spend a great deal of time and energy preparing for his defense and using his bank account to fund a legal defense instead of a re-election bid.

DeLay, who narrowly won his last election, is expected to face a formidable Democratic candidate, former Rep. Nick Lampson, next year.

"We'll have to see what ... Tom DeLay wants his role to be," said Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-New York, a DeLay loyalist who heads the Republican's campaign committee.

He predicted Republicans will continue to seek advice and support from DeLay. "People will seek his counsel, because his counsel is good," Reynolds said.

"We have to move forward," Wamp said about his possible ambitions to seek the job of majority whip in January. That's when House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, promised Republicans will be able to "revisit" his decision to install Majority Whip Roy Blunt to temporarily succeed DeLay while keeping his whip job.

Wamp said it is important to get the leadership team "formalized and finalized."

"I don't think anyone expects Roy to hold two positions for 15 months," he said.

Elected 10 years ago, Blunt's quick rise to the No. 2 spot in the House has ruffled some feathers.

Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, said Blunt needs to prove he will stand with fiscal conservatives and turn back the growth in spending that has marked Republican rule for the past several years.

"The base is literally screaming, 'Stop the spending!' " Flake said.

Asked if Blunt will do that, Flake said: "I don't know. I simply don't know."

In the meantime, the logistics of moving DeLay out of his office and melding his staff with Blunt's dominated the attention of many in the Capitol.

A spokesman for DeLay, Kevin Madden, couldn't say whether he worked for the new majority leader or was on DeLay's personal staff. He suggested DeLay still will get round-the-clock police protection -- as all congressional leaders do -- but didn't know for how long.

Blunt met Wednesday night with members of the staff that served DeLay as majority leader and said those who wanted to stay on could do so.

Tim Berry, who was DeLay's chief of staff, reported Thursday for his last day of work. A powerful player in almost all things DeLay, Berry had been planning to leave Capitol Hill before Wednesday's indictment, having accepted a job as a lobbyist for Time Warner, Inc., the parent company of CNN.

Some items from DeLay's Capitol office were moved Wednesday night to his district office, but DeLay reported Thursday morning to his Capitol office and then went to the majority leader's ceremonial office in the Capitol to conduct a series of radio interviews.

The office still had a wooden plaque with the name "Mr. DeLay" engraved in it.

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