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Boehner, Blunt seek to replace DeLay

Lawmakers debate scandals' impact on mid-term elections


Will Tom DeLay's decision to not try to regain the post of House majority leader help Republicans keep control of Congress?
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Tom DeLay

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Two top Republicans announced Sunday they would seek the No. 2 position in the House, a day after Rep. Tom DeLay said he will not try to reclaim the majority leader post.

Other lawmakers, meanwhile, debated whether the issue of corruption will take center stage in this year's election after a week that also saw Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff plead guilty to numerous charges and agree to testify against lawmakers.

Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, who was chairman of the House Republican Conference from 1994 to 1998, and House Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri, who has been the interim leader, each said they will seek to replace DeLay.

"We need a conference with the courage and confidence to tackle our nation's problems. This is a critical time for the Republican conference," Boehner said Sunday, according to a news release.

Blunt was also reaching out to fellow House Republicans in hopes of winning their support.

"Unfortunately, the recent scandals have caused some to question whether we have lost our vision and whether the faith they have placed in us is justified," Blunt wrote in a letter to the conference.

"While I have no doubt that it is, it will be difficult to move forward with our platform until we regain the trust and confidence of our constituents by enacting new lobbying reforms and enhanced penalties for those who break the public trust."

Blunt has been serving as majority leader since DeLay stepped aside in the fall after being indicted on felony charges involving campaign finance in his home state of Texas. He and his colleagues said at the time that he would soon return to his leadership role.

DeLay has pleaded not guilty to charges of money laundering and conspiracy, calling them politically motivated. His trial is pending.

Both Blunt and Boehner had been expected to run for the post after DeLay stepped down permanently Saturday.

Boehner, in a letter to the Republican conference Sunday, seemed to offer a theme for his campaign. He said he was focused on "renewal. Renewal in spirit, renewal in principles, renewal in commitment."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert said Saturday that he expects House Republicans to vote the week of January 31, when Congress reconvenes.

Political fallout

Leaders on both sides of the aisle plan to announce efforts to combat corruption in the coming days, as each side jockeys to come across as the party cleaning up Washington before the November elections.

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday that the issue is "going to play a great deal" in the 2006 elections.

"When the Republican party took power in 1994, it was a party of change and the Democrats were regarded as the party of the status quo and involved in all these various little scandals," Schumer said. "And now it seems to have flipped."

Schumer said he thinks the public believes "America is headed in the wrong direction."

"We Democrats stand for change, not only in trying to clean up this lobbying [and] corruption, but on the meat-and-potato issues like energy costs and prescription drugs and health care," he said.

If DeLay runs for re-election as he has said, he will become "part of a symbol of too much entrenched power and need for checks and balances and need for change," Schumer said.

But Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, cautioned against such predictions.

The nation should wait and see how DeLay's trial turns out and how far the corruption scandal reaches, he told "Meet the Press."

"We'll find out how the chips fall," he said.

On CBS' "Face the Nation," Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, was asked how far the corruption scandals were likely to reach.

"The preliminary indicators are ... it may go quite far. And it may go into both parties, and it may go back some distance in time," he said.

"But I think that when Tom DeLay made that decision [to step down], I think he did the right thing, because it's very, very tough on the party to have that controversy."

Asked whether the party is in danger, he said, "I think that it's always touch and go. This is one of many, many issues. I think that when you deal with these issues of lobbying influence, it really crosses party lines.

"But Republicans control the House and the Senate, and I think it's up to us to take the leadership position and to move ahead with reforms. They are long overdue."

Anti-corruption initiatives are expected to be announced in coming days.

Hastert issued a statement Sunday saying, "I intend to move forward aggressively and quickly to have the House of Representatives address lobbying reform."

Meanwhile, Schumer said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid "next week" will unveil a plan "to clear up the corruption, particularly with lobbyists in Washington."

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