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Boehner chosen as GOP leader in House
WASHINGTON -- Rep. John Boehner of Ohio won election Thursday as House majority leader, promising a steady hand and a helping of reform for Republicans staggered by election-year scandal.
Boehner, who replaces indicted Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, said the GOP "must act swiftly to restore the trust between Congress and the American people."
He defeated Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri on a vote of 122-109 by House Republicans after trailing his rival on an inconclusive first round.
"Life goes on," shrugged Blunt, who has long had close ties to DeLay and had been the acknowledged front-runner in a race to replace him. Blunt retains his post as GOP whip, third-ranking in the leadership behind Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois and Boehner.
"People were ready for more reform than he [Blunt] was offering," said Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who supported a third contender, John Shadegg of Arizona, on the first ballot.
Flake added that Rep. Bill Thomas of California, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, told fellow Republicans before the vote that Boehner was "a bridge to the old Revolution days," when the GOP stood for political change.
Rep. David Hobson of Ohio, who backed Boehner, said the new leader will be "good on TV, good on policy. Democrats fear and respect him because they know he's tough but he is also fair."
Boehner and DeLay have clashed repeatedly over the years, but the election had scarcely ended when Democrats launched an effort to depict the winner as a continuation of the status quo.
"As the Who famously said, 'Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,"' said Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic congressional campaign committee.
Last month, Boehner refused to return some $30,000 in donations from American Indian tribes represented by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Boehner has been criticized, as well, for the donations he has received from Sallie Mae. The nation's largest provider of student loans has interests before the committee that he chairs.
As majority leader, Boehner's first challenge will be to work with Hastert and the rank and file to find consensus on legislation designed to curtail the influence of lobbyists in Congress.
Beyond that, he said Republicans "must take the necessary steps to get the federal budget under control -- to cut wasteful spending, reform our entitlement programs and craft a budget process that encourages fiscal discipline.
"And we must recommit ourselves to reducing the influence of government in our lives."
President Bush called Boehner with congratulations from Air Force One on a flight from Minnesota to New Mexico. He also called Blunt.
Boehner's triumph capped an improbable comeback for the 56-year-old conservative, who has a golfer's tan and often has a cigarette in hand.
In 15 years in Congress, he has been a reformer, a member of the leadership, the loser in a fierce round of infighting, a committee chairman.
Now, with DeLay under indictment on campaign finance charges in Texas, lobbyist Abramoff pledging to cooperate with a congressional corruption probe, and polls showing dwindling support for Republicans, he offered himself as a reformer with experience.
Blunt, tapped as a temporary stand-in for DeLay last fall, had claimed for more than a week that he had the votes to win the job permanently. But his total declined as Republicans reached for an alternative to the status quo.
At the same time, Boehner has long played a significant role in helping other Republicans with their campaigns.
His political action committee, The Freedom Project, distributed nearly $3 million to Republican candidates over the past 11 years, according to Political MoneyLine, an Internet site that tracks political fundraising and lobbying. And as a member of the leadership several years ago, he cultivated ties with lobbyists as he tried to line up support for the GOP agenda.
Boehner first drew notice in the House when the Republicans were in the minority, as a member of the "Gang of Seven" that did its best to publicize alleged Democratic ethical lapses. More than a decade later, a poster showing the seven hangs near his desk in his office across the street from the Capitol.
Boehner's role earned him a seat at the leadership table in 1994 when Republicans gained a House majority. Clashes with DeLay quickly followed, and he lost his post in a shake-up that followed GOP election losses and Newt Gingrich's resignation as speaker in 1998. Two years later, he became chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, where he helped shepherd Bush's No Child Left Behind legislation to passage.
In the House, Boehner has established a solidly conservative voting record. He has supported Bush's tax cuts, opposed abortion and backed numerous Republican attempts to reduce spending.
As chairman of the committee with jurisdiction over labor issues, he has said he never voted to increase the minimum wage. At the same time, Boehner has shown an ability to work across party lines.
Late last year, he and Thomas reached a compromise with the United Auto Workers Union that allowed passage of major pension legislation with the support of 70 Democratic votes.
He and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat, combine forces for an annual charity dinner to benefit 14 inner-city Catholic schools in the neediest neighborhoods of Washington.
The leadership election was marked initially by confusion when it appeared that the number of ballots cast exceeded the number of eligible voters by one. It turned out that clerks had left Luis Fortuno, the resident commissioner of Puerto Rico, off their list. He is not allowed to vote on the House floor but does have voting rights in the GOP's internal deliberations.
Blunt led the voting on the first round, 110, to 79 for Boehner, 40 for Shadegg, R-Ariz. Rep. Jim Ryun of Kansas drew two write-in votes. Shadegg and Ryun withdrew, leading to a run-off between the two finalists.