GOP Taps Ohio Rep For Majority Leader

Tom Delay John Boehner
CBS/AP
House Republicans elected Rep. John Boehner of Ohio as their new majority leader Thursday, choosing a self-proclaimed reform candidate to replace indicted Rep. Tom DeLay as the party struggles with an ethics scandal.

Boehner, flanked by Speaker Dennis Hastert and other members of the leadership, said Republicans will "rededicate ourselves to dealing with big issues that the American people expect us to deal with" — such as pocketbook and national security issues.

Boehner, a 56-year-old veteran of 15 years in Congress, defeated the front-runner, Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, 122-109, after lagging behind his rival in a first, inconclusive vote.

A third contender — John Shadegg of Arizona — withdrew after trailing his two rivals in the initial round of voting.

While Boehner has had feuds with DeLay, Blunt was close to the former majority leader and had served as his top deputy.

But Republicans are clearly worried about their image and the effect of the growing bribery and corruption scandal involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff. DeLay used to rule the House with an iron hand, CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss reports. Now, Republicans seem determined to distance themselves from him.

But Boehner doesn't come with totally clean hands, Fuss reports. He gained notoriety for passing out campaign checks from tobacco lobbyists on the House floor and takes trips paid for by lobbyists he has helped on bills involving student loans. While others have rushed to return donations from Abramoff's clients, Boehner kept his.

Blunt remains the GOP whip. "Believe me, the world goes on," he said.

"We have a great leadership team," Blunt said. "We're going to work to make the Congress better; more importantly we're going to work to make the country better, and I look forward to working with John Boehner as majority leader to make that happen."

Boehner campaigned as a candidate of reform, promising to curb a process called "earmarking, " which is popularly known as "pork-barrel spending," reports CBS News correspondent Gloria Borger. He said his experience as chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee had demonstrated his ability to pass major legislation.

Blunt had been a temporary stand-in for DeLay, who is charged with campaign finance violations in Texas.

After the vote, Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., called Boehner "a fresh face."

"It wouldn't be credible for the same leaders to be advocating change," Flake said, adding he hoped Blunt would stay on as whip, third-ranking in the leadership.

The new majority leader was a lieutenant in Newt Gingrich's "Republican Revolution," and his history is what secured Flakes vote, Borger reports.

"He was part of the revolutionary group that helped with the 'Contract with America' and held up really craft the message that we want to revive," Flake said. "So he's kind of a bridge back to old warriors."

Republicans are at a political crossroads as they work to avoid the taint of scandal from investigations that have already led to the conviction and resignation of Rep. Randy Cunningham, R-Calif. In addition, Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, faces scrutiny in a wide-ranging congressional corruption investigation symbolized by lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The election was marked by confusion for a time when it appeared that the number of ballots cast exceeded the number of eligible voters by one. It turned out that clerks had left Luis Fortuno, the resident commissioner of Puerto Rico, off their list. He is not allowed to vote on the House floor, but does have voting rights in the GOP's internal deliberations.