- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A small but growing group of House Republicans is pushing for across-the-board leadership elections, arguing that to remain the majority, their party must ask all of its leaders tough questions and, if needed, make changes.

“We’re facing a real challenge right now … and that is whether or not the American people believe we ought to remain in the majority,” said Rep. Dan Lungren, California Republican.

Mr. Lungren and Rep. John E. Sweeney, New York Republican, are working to obtain the 50 signatures needed to ask the House Republican Conference to open seven of eight House Republican leadership positions; only the speaker’s post would remain. Expanded elections would require approval of a majority of the conference.

Mr. Sweeney said he and Mr. Lungren were halfway to their goal of 50 signatures. Both predicted they would reach that number.

Mr. Lungren said all leaders should explain their vision for the party and should face tough questions to show that they and their aides are above reproach in the wake of the scandal surrounding indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

“We ought to do the due diligence and know what the facts are,” Mr. Lungren said. “If something were to pop up after this election … the American people are going to say to us, ‘Are you folks serious?’”

Both men said they are not targeting anyone in particular but are trying to start the year with strong leadership. “It affords us the chance to review what our leadership team wants to do, what their ideas are and where they intend to lead us,” Mr. Sweeney said. He said Republicans should “fully vet ourselves.”

Two Republican leadership jobs are open. Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas vacated the position of majority leader, and Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona quit as policy chairman. He is running for majority leader against Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio and Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, who claims to have majority support.

If Mr. Blunt is elected majority leader, he will vacate his position as majority whip.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, yesterday endorsed Mr. Shadegg for majority leader.

Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican and an influential voice as chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, will announce an endorsement today, his office said.

Mr. Sweeney and Mr. Lungren also want Republican elections on the House Republican Conference chairmanship, held by Deborah Pryce of Ohio; conference vice chairman, held by Jack Kingston of Georgia; conference secretary, held by John T. Doolittle of California; and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, held by Thomas M. Reynolds of New York.

Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois and others have said they would agree to the majority decision. “If that’s the will of the conference, then so be it,” said Sean Spicer, spokesman for Mrs. Pryce.

Securing majority support for expanded elections is unlikely, said Adam H. Putnam of Florida, who is seeking the Republican Policy Committee post. “To expand it for the sake of expanding it, I don’t think is healthy.”

A senior Republican aide said the conference is “not even close” to expanding the leadership elections, and several said the party needs stability rather than an effort “to shake the rest of the tree.”

Mr. Kingston said he is drafting a letter urging Republicans to focus on moving forward on issues such as immigration and tax relief. “I think most people want to,” he said.

• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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