- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2006

House Republicans in search of someone to lead them out of the minority wilderness are growing increasingly frustrated with their choices in the leadership elections as Senate Democrats yesterday swiftly approved a slate of top leaders.

Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada was picked to be majority leader and much of the rest the Democratic leadership also remained in place — a clear sign of gratitude for orchestrating last week’s six-seat pickup that just last year Mr. Reid predicted would require a “miracle.”

“Two years ago, we had an opportunity for new leadership on the Democratic side of the Senate, and we chose as our leader Harry Reid,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, elected yesterday to be majority whip. “We could not have made a better choice to unify this caucus, to make certain that we came to the floor every day with a purpose, and most importantly, that we took a message to the American people, a message of hope.”

Today, Senate Republicans are expected to approve Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to be the minority leader. Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, a former Senate Republican leader, and Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, are locked in a tight but very quiet race for the No. 2 slot.

In the House, things aren’t as quiet, as the Democratic race for majority leader grows bitter and the Republicans remain divided over who should lead their party.

Rep. John P. Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who has become the face of his party’s anti-war stance and is running for majority leader, harshly criticized Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the current No. 2 Democrat. Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California will almost assuredly become House speaker in January.

“The Pelosi-Murtha position on the war is the reason the Democrats are in the majority today,” Mr. Murtha said. “Congressman Hoyer’s position has been to stay the course with President Bush from the very beginning.”

Mr. Hoyer’s office noted that he and Mr. Murtha both signed three letters urging Mr. Bush to withdraw troops from Iraq. Mr. Hoyer yesterday declined to respond to questions about whether Mr. Murtha’s past ethical and legal troubles might undermine the party’s declared aim of cleaning up what Democrats called “the culture of corruption” in Congress.

“I am not looking back,” Mr. Hoyer said. “My role is to look forward.”

Among House Republicans, members remain divided over their top post, and one of the most frequently floated names for the No. 2 position isn’t even running.

Most insiders say Rep. John A. Boehner, the Ohio Republican and current majority leader, is favored to win the top spot, but Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, has been widely praised by conservatives off the Hill as a fresh face.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois has declined to run for the leader position.

Some Republicans have expressed reluctance to return Mr. Boehner to leadership after last week’s disastrous elections, and some are opposed to Mr. Pence for forging a compromise on immigration that critics dismissed as “amnesty.” Yesterday, Mr. Pence renounced those efforts.

“All those debates about compromise are a thing of the past,” he said in an interview with talk-radio host Laura Ingraham.

“I reject any form of amnesty, even if we’ve got border security,” he said. “I really reject the idea that people whose first act in this country was a violation of the law ought to be able to get right with the law without leaving the country.”

In the race for Republican whip, many members say they are far less enthusiastic.

The current whip — Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, who hopes to retain the position — has talked about the need for “cultural change in Washington,” but is an old ally of ousted leader Tom DeLay. It didn’t help that he attended a fundraising golf tournament last weekend, just days after his party lost 30 seats amid charges of corruption.

“Mr. Blunt is proud of the significant financial assistance he has given to hundreds of Republican members and candidates and believes that fundraising is a necessary part of recapturing our majority in 2008,” his spokeswoman said.

Challenging Mr. Blunt is Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona, a conservative who lost his bid earlier this year for majority leader.

“He was one of the guys who got here in the ‘94 Republican revolution and didn’t go native,” said Rep. Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, who supports Mr. Shadegg.

But others say Mr. Shadegg is uninspiring and aloof. Many have settled on Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, Mr. Blunt’s chief deputy whip, who actively supports Mr. Blunt’s re-election.

“Everybody is asking why Cantor is not running,” said one Republican staffer who requested anonymity to speak freely about the leadership race.

Mr. Ryan, who is friends with Mr. Cantor, said, “Most people would say Eric would win, but he doesn’t want to win that way. He’s Roy’s deputy, and he’s being loyal. That’s who Eric is.”

Indeed, Mr. Cantor declined to comment on the growing “draft Cantor” movement, except to say he’s not running and supports Mr. Blunt.

“The fact that Cantor won’t go back on his word to Blunt is exactly why he should be in leadership,” said a frustrated Republican aide. “For the future of this party, Blunt should step aside.”

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