The conservative media, from George Will to “National Review” to THE WALL STREET JOURNAL to various other commentators and publications, clamored for change in last week’s election for a House of Representatives Majority Leader to succeed Tom DeLay (R-TX). They got it. But then again they didn’t get it. Had John B. Shadegg (R-AZ) been elected there would have been genuine change. Instead, Shadegg withdrew after the first ballot and likely most of his votes were cast for John A. Boehner (R-OH) - all on secret ballot.
I warned Roy Blunt (R-MO), who had been the front runner because he was Acting Majority Leader, of the lie factor. In the twenty-some leadership elections in which I have been active in both Houses every time there were Senators and Representatives who looked their colleague candidate in the eye and said, “I will vote for you” and then didn’t. For the first ballot Blunt had two more commitments than needed for election. He only counted those Members who gave him an unequivocal commitment. If there were the tiniest bit of hesitation or doubt they would not be counted as a yes. For example, if a Member said, “I can’t imagine a circumstance where I wouldn’t be voting for you” he was listed as undecided. Eight Members looked him in the eye and lied.
Roy is a good vote-counter. Witness what he has been able to accomplish in the House. So this clearly was a case of some Members wanting to hedge their bets. They thought Roy would win so they wanted to be able to say they were with him if he did win. But these same Members got caught up in the fervor for change. They hope that by electing Boehner they have shed connections with lobbyists, earmarks, Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay.
I did not support Boehner and tried to be helpful to Blunt. Obviously, we who tried to help Blunt didn’t do enough. That is water over the dam. I wish John Boehner the best in carrying out his responsibilities. If he wants my help he has it.
Let us be realistic in moving forward. While Boehner has had absolutely no known connection to Jack Abramoff, he is certainly no stranger to lobbyists. He did accept gambling money from Abramoff’s Indian clients. In his previous incarnation in the House Leadership Boehner ran an operation specifically designed to get lobbyists to help Republican causes in elections and in lobbying. In the past he has defended lobbyists.
In that regard Boehner is correct. The vast majority of lobbyists are decent, honorable people who merely try to see that Members of Congress understand the problems peculiar to their city, state, company, association, union or industry. Good lobbyists help Members of Congress because they study legislation in detail and explain to the Member how the legislation would impact their particular situation.
Already the liberals inside and outside Congress are attempting to tie around Boehner’s neck his close association with lobbyists. My point is not to be critical of Boehner but to advise those Republicans who were clamoring for change that they didn’t get it.
Boehner in many ways more closely was linked to DeLay than was Blunt. Boehner was part of the original leadership team which was elected by the House of Representatives in 1995. It is true that Blunt had been appointed Chief Deputy Whip by DeLay and went on to be elected Majority Whip in his own right when DeLay became Majority Leader following the voluntary departure of Representative Richard K. Armey (R-TX). But Boehner was part of the original Gingrich-DeLay-Armey leadership team, which came into office with such revolutionary fanfare in January a dozen years ago. So in that sense, as well, Republicans did not get much change.One thing. This election was not about ideology. All three contestants for Majority Leader were within a few points of each other as conservatives. What seemed to hurt Blunt the most was that he didn’t resign to run for DeLay’s former post. Many Members told me he should have taken the risk and that had he done so they would have voted for him. Again, you never know if you are getting the straight story from Members but that is what I picked up again and again so there must be some truth to it.
The question is, what should Blunt do now? He continues to be Majority Whip. He was advised by friends that he should step aside, triggering a new election for Whip and then re-emerge when Speaker Hastert retires. That advice makes some sense. Majority Leader Boehner should be able to lay his hands on a new whip as DeLay did with Blunt. Instead, Boehner and Blunt will be rivals. They are not overly fond of each other although Blunt always praised Boehner in his calls soliciting Members’ votes for Majority Leader. “Perhaps I over did it,” he joked at a press conference after his defeat.
One veteran Member who knows both of them well but who would not allow me to quote him by name said, “They are like oil and water. It just won’t work to have them in those positions together.”
2006 will be a tough election year. It may be the year the Democrats return as the Majority. If Boehner is able to pick his own team and between now and election acts to save the Republican Majority then he should get the credit. On the other hand if Boehner’s actions fail the test and Republicans lose it should be clear who is responsible. Obviously, it is Blunt’s call as to what he does with his future. It is hard not to be in leadership once you have been there.
No leader since Republicans took over the House in 1994 has been better for social-issue conservatives than Roy Blunt. He attended our meetings. He listened to our concerns. He acted on them whenever possible. The former President of a Baptist College, Blunt gets it. So I would be sorry for his departure just in that sense.
Also Republicans as a whole may hope that Blunt stays on the job. He has proved rather adept at convincing Democrats to help with some Republican measures. And when the Democrats were ordered by their leadership not to co-operate in any way, he has proven he can get measures passed solely with Republican votes. It remains to be seen if Majority Leader Boehner will have the ability to reach across the aisle and to persuade sufficient more liberal Republicans to vote for a conservative bill. Moreover, if a new Whip were selected would he regularly be able to accomplish what Blunt regularly has been able to accomplish?
Republicans, in order to overcome the intensity of the campaign which really begins now, must deal with securing our borders. They must bring spending, including entitlements, under control. They must send to the President’s desk a measure deregulating the communications industry. They must authorize drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). They must bring up the Marriage Amendment. They must do more on energy. They must pass those pro-life bills which are achievable. They must, in short, pass the whole conservative agenda.
It troubles me greatly that in Friday’s NEW YORK TIMES, Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) praised the elevation of Boehner. He said he liked John “because he doesn’t always say no.” Boehner and Kennedy worked together on the No Child Left Behind Act, which in effect, has federalized public education in America.
If Boehner turns out to be another Robert H. Michel (R-IL) i.e., “You have to go along to get along,” Republicans are in for a drubbing of monumental proportions. On the other hand, if Boehner advances the conservative agenda there is a chance that the “embarrassed Republican vote” will turn out and give this Congress another chance. It is now up to the new Majority Leader.