February 6, 2006
Why Blunt Lost
When Roy Blunt entered the Caucus Room of the Cannon House Office
Building at noon last Thursday, he was sure he had enough votes
from fellow Republican House members to be elected majority leader.
He probably would have won had it not been for what was said by
two dissimilar congressmen: Bill Thomas of California and Mark Souder
deigns to descend from his olympian heights as House Ways and
Means Committee chairman. Accordingly, his colleagues were surprised
when he rose to imply that Blunt had not made the trains run on
time as acting majority leader. Souder, a backbench bomb thrower
for 11 years in the House, suggested that the election of Blunt
could ratify the Democratic indictment of the GOP as the party
by Thomas and Souder built concern that Blunt's election would
signal that Republicans really want nothing to change. Blunt would
have continued the promotion from within for Republican leadership
of a select circle of insiders intimately connected to the K Street
lobbyist community. Blunt's campaign exuded an aura of entitlement,
especially when he declined to appear with his opponents on Sunday
televised interview programs.
might influence the House Republican Conference is counterintuitive.
While regarded as the House's smartest member and most effective
committee chairman, the former political science professor has
made few friends during 27 years in Congress and was not part
of the leadership elite. He was not involved in maneuvers to succeed
the indicted Tom DeLay as majority leader and had made no commitment
to any candidate as of last Wednesday. But Thomas that night told
a Ways and Means colleague he would deliver the nominating speech
for Rep. John Boehner, challenger to the heavily favored Blunt.
speech backed Boehner as a fellow committee chairman who appreciated
present shortcomings in House operations. Thomas has complained
that tax legislation approved by Ways and Means last October still
had not passed last week. Thomas praised Boehner's chairmanship
of the Education and Workforce Committee, where he had picked
himself up after being dumped as House Republican Conference chairman
following the 1998 elections.
claim even fewer friends in Congress than Thomas. An ardent conservative
and evangelical Christian, Souder has been a hair shirt for Republican
leaders since his election in the famous Class of '94. His nominating
speech for Rep. John Shadegg, running for majority leader on a
platform of conservative reform, moved his colleagues.
these elections come back with the same top leadership,"
Souder declared, "we will be telling the American people
that we have not changed -- that the rest of the world has shifted
but we have not." Much the same message was delivered in
the conference by two other Shadegg supporters, Reps. Paul Ryan
of Wisconsin and Charles Bass of New Hampshire.
was the true reform candidate. Unlike Boehner, Shadegg was free
of K Street taint. But Boehner at least provides the change in
leadership demanded by Souder. He also opposes and never had utilized
earmarks, which Blunt and the rest of the regular leadership enthusiastically
embraced. It is clear that Blunt would have been routinely elected
as majority leader had Shadegg not entered the race. After Shadegg
dropped on the second ballot, his supporters contend that some
90 percent of his votes went to Boehner.
may well achieve the high performance level set forth by Thomas's
nominating speech. Until last Thursday, nobody mentioned Bill
Thomas and the Republican leadership in the same breath. But since
then, there has been talk of Thomas filling the vacancy of presiding
chairman over the leadership's meetings.
the reform advocated in Souder's speech is realized under Boehner
is another matter. "We haven't lost anyone in our leadership
team," said Rep. Adam Putnam, 32-year-old protege of Speaker
Dennis Hastert. Putnam overlooked the fact that he became Policy
Committee chairman to replace the highly principled reformer Shadegg,
who resigned that leadership post to run for higher office while
Blunt did not quit as majority whip. The question arises whether
Boehner will at least reduce his old role as money raiser and
party giver as he has forsworn earmarks.
2006 Creators Syndicate