House Minority Whip Roy Blunt said Thursday morning he will give up his leadership post, clearing the way for Rep. Eric Cantor to take over the No. 2 spot in House Republican leadership.
“I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve liked being in the middle of things,” Mr. Blunt, a Missouri Republican, told reporters. “Now somebody else can bring a new bag of tricks on to the floor.”
He gave a nod to his expected successor, Mr. Cantor, saying the Virginia Republican “has done a great job. He’s been a good partner in our efforts.”
The whip’s job is to count noses and corral House Republicans’ votes on key issues. Mr. Blunt has held the job since taking over when former Rep. Tom DeLay became Republicans’ House leader in 2003.
Mr. Cantor has been Mr. Blunt’s chief deputy since then, and his ascent was expected once Mr. Blunt gave up the reins.
Mr. Blunt said he wrote himself a letter in January 2007, after Republicans lost the majority to the Democrats, that spelled out his intention to recapture the majority in 2008 or else step aside as minority whip. He opened the letter Wednesday, he said.
“I think my instincts two years ago were right,” Mr. Blunt told reporters at an informal press conference at his Capitol offices.
He said he would return to the Energy and Commerce Committee, where he plans to have a significant role in the energy debate promised by President-elect Barack Obama.
“We’re in a totally new environment now,” he said of the dawn of complete Democratic rule in Washington. During his tenure, he said, House Republicans enjoyed 10 years in the majority and two years in the minority but with the resources of President Bush.
“Now we are probably back to our principles,” Mr. Blunt said. “That’s the only resource we have left.”
He said the party will benefit from focusing on its core principles or small government, fiscal discipline and low taxes. But he said the mantra of less spending and lower taxes would not be enough to win back the majority.
“You have to be explaining those principles in a way that appeals to more people,” he said. “I hope we have a focus that is more than just making our base happy, and I believe we will.”
After 12 years in office, 10 of them as party whip, Mr. Blunt said he was ready to see what it is like to serve solely as a member of Congress.
“Ten years of asking people to do things they don’t want to do is a long time,” Mr. Blunt said, adding he was not considering running for another leadership post now or in the future.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican, appears safe in his post when the conference hold its leadership elections Nov. 19. No prominent member has mounted a challenge to Mr. Boehner, despite the conference losing seats in two consecutive elections.