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GOP Seeking Replacement For DeLay

U.S. House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-TX) joined other Republican members of Congress to talk about providing emergency relief to the victims of Hurricane Katrina September 2, 2005 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The House approved $10.5 billion in emergency aid for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and U.S. President George W. Bush said he would sign the bill that night. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Embattled Rep. Tom DeLay's hopes of reclaiming his position as House majority leader suffered a potentially fatal setback on Friday as a growing number of fellow Republicans called for new leadership in the midst of a congressional corruption scandal.

Two House Republicans are circulating a petition that will call for new elections that would permanently replace DeLay, reports CBS News correspondent Gloria Borger.

Sources close to the House Republican leadership told CBS News these new elections

.

Borger adds that although sources say DeLay is slowly coming to the conclusion that he's not going to be able to reclaim his post, his office says he's still committed to resuming his responsibilities.

"It's clear that we need to elect a new majority leader to restore the trust and confidence of the American people," said Rep. Jim Ramstad of Minnesota.

Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., whose own hold on power appears secure, signaled he would not stand in the way of elections that could produce changes in several leadership posts.

"This is consistent with the speaker's announcement ... that House Republicans would revisit this matter at the beginning of this year," said his spokesman, Ron Bonjean, referring to the petition drive.

DeLay gave no indication he was ready to renounce his hopes of returning to the post he held before his indictment last year on campaign finance charges in his home state of Texas.

But with Hastert planning an overseas trip beginning early next week, it appeared an announcement on new elections could come within a few days.

Earlier this week, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told the CBS Evening News that he thinks that

even if DeLay is presumed innocent.

"As a practical matter, he can't go through this whole process and be an effective leader," Gingrich said.

The developments occurred near the end of a week in which lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the central figure in a growing public corruption investigation and a man with close ties to Republicans, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and several other charges in two federal courtrooms. At the same time, an Associated Press/Ipsos poll showed that 49 percent of those surveyed said they would prefer to see Democrats in control of Congress and 36 percent said Republicans.

Apart from leadership changes, several GOP officials said leaders were hoping to announce plans next week for ethics-related legislation.

Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, who took over as majority leader temporarily when DeLay stepped aside following his indictment on state charges, is certain to run for the post if new elections are held. Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, a former member of the leadership, is his likeliest rival, and there may be other contenders as well.

DeLay, whose defiant, take-no-prisoners style has won him the admiration and respect of fellow Republicans, has insisted he is innocent of wrongdoing and has said he intends to reclaim his leadership post once he is cleared.

Hastert and other Republicans accepted that arrangement temporarily last year, and DeLay maneuvered to win the dismissal of charges or gain an acquittal by early February.

But Abramoff's guilty pleas appears to have changed the political environment for Republicans 11 months before the midterm elections.