- The Washington Times - Friday, January 13, 2006

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert is talking to Rep. Bob Ney about stepping down from his committee chairmanship in light of bribery accusations involving ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

“There have been ongoing discussions between Speaker Hastert and Representative Ney about his role as chairman of the House Administration Committee,” Ron Bonjean, Mr. Hastert’s spokesman, said yesterday.

As chairman of that committee, Mr. Ney would have jurisdiction over any lobby reform package the House would consider — something Democrats could use to embarrass Republicans this midterm election year.

Meanwhile, the race for House majority leader got more complicated yesterday as Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona, a key conservative figure, announced his bid as the third candidate seeking the post.

“I believe that a majority of Republicans in the House understand the need for real, thorough reform,” he said. “We must renew our commitment to the principles that won us a majority in the first place: fiscal discipline, smaller government, lower taxes, a strong national defense, returning power to the states and greater personal freedom.”

House Republicans have been scrambling since Mr. Abramoff agreed to plead guilty nearly two weeks ago to corruption charges and to help prosecutors go after the members of Congress he says he worked with.

Former Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas announced last weekend he would not try to regain his leader’s post, setting off the race to replace him, and speculation has turned to which other members of Congress will be ousted by Mr. Abramoff’s charges.

Mr. Ney, Ohio Republican, is believed to be the man cited as “Representative No. 1” in the Justice Department’s charges against Mr. Abramoff. Prosecutors said that representative received “things of value” for performing “a series of official acts.”

Mr. Ney has consistently said he did nothing wrong.

He was in New Orleans as chairman of the housing subcommittee the Financial Services Committee, holding hearings on Katrina reconstructions, and couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday.

But a source close to Mr. Ney said the lawmaker called the speaker earlier this week.

“They didn’t make a decision, but it’s certainly something Ney has been thinking about because temporarily stepping aside may be in the interest of the conference,” he said.

The source said under the current climate in Washington people are presumed guilty until proven innocent, so Mr. Ney, while expecting to be eventually exonerated, is weighing how much of a distraction the stories about him are for fellow Republicans right now.

As chairman of House Administration Mr. Ney is in charge of offices’ expenses, parking and other parts of the Capitol grounds.

The chairman is named by the speaker, but has to be ratified by the Republican Conference. That means no official action could be taken against Mr. Ney until the House returns for business at the end of this month, a Republican leadership aide said.

“The speaker is moving behind the scenes for the greater good of the conference and handling it in the most dignified way as possible. We hope we will see the results of those talks next week,” the aide said.

Republican leaders had stood by Mr. Ney throughout past year, but the aide said the situation has changed.

“There are people that have pled guilty who have conspired to bribe him. It does not mean he is guilty. However, given this information and the fact that part of our reform agenda will come before his committee, it’s a big problem in him leading it,” the aide said.

As for the leader’s race, Mr. Shadegg’s entrance did not faze his two announced opponents, Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio and Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri.

Mr. Boehner said Mr. Shadegg’s entrance means there are enough members unhappy with current leaders that it’s time for a change.

“Between the two of us, we’re going to make this race about reforming how the House does business and providing a real alternative to the status quo,” he said.

Mr. Blunt is currently the majority whip and acting majority leader.

He released a list of 82 publicly announced supporters and claimed more than 100, while Mr. Boehner’s public list is at 40 and he claims he has 90 members’ support.

A source close to Mr. Blunt said they don’t think Mr. Shadegg changes the race much because so many members are already committed to Mr. Blunt. Also, members knew Mr. Shadegg’s entrance was a possibility from the beginning and committed to Mr. Blunt or Mr. Boehner anyway.

Mr. Shadegg is chairman of the Republican Policy Committee and a former chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the conservative caucus in the House.

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