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House Leadership Race Heats Up Amid Hill Scandals

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

It's a time of upheaval in the House of Representatives amid lobbying scandals and the indictment of former Majority Leader Tom DeLay on campaign finance charges. Three House Republicans are now in the race to succeed DeLay, who had to step aside as majority leader after he was indicted in Texas. The majority leader is the number-two leadership post after speaker of the House. The candidates are Roy Blunt of Missouri, John Boehner of Ohio and John Shadegg of Arizona. All three appeared on "Fox News Sunday" yesterday. We'll hear a bit of what each had to say, beginning with Congressman Blunt, who's held the job on an interim basis since Tom DeLay stepped aside.

(Soundbite of "Fox News Sunday")

Representative ROY BLUNT (Republican, Missouri): Yeah, I'm not in competition with Tom DeLay to see who can do the best job. He's a great guy, a great friend of mine. I think part of what you've got to be doing--be willing to do as leader is take the blame occasionally and say, `You know, this might not be the moment to push this particular issue.'

BLOCK: Blunt's main opposition in the race so far comes from John Boehner of Ohio.

(Soundbite of "Fox News Sunday")

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): I've got a long record of being ab--of reforming Congress and I think that we need to--we need more reforms to make sure that there's transparency in the relationship between those who lobby us and members and staffs.

Mr. CHRIS WALLACE (Host, "Fox News Sunday"): Let me ask you about that.

BLOCK: The latest candidate to enter the race is John Shadegg of Arizona, who told "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace that he's less tainted by scandal than his two opponents.

(Soundbite of "Fox News Sunday")

Representative JOHN SHADEGG (Republican, Arizona): I don't think either one of them understands the consequence of the scandals that have hit Washington. We have an agenda for the American people of smaller government and lower taxes and less regulation and more freedom, but we also promised to clean up Washington. We need real dramatic reform.

Mr. WALLACE: Congressman Shadegg...

BLOCK: Where could this leadership fight lead, and how serious is Congress about changing the way it does business? Those are some questions we're going to pose to Walter Shapiro, Washington bureau chief for Salon.com.

Thanks for being with us.

Mr. WALTER SHAPIRO (Washington Bureau Chief, Salon.com): Thank you.

BLOCK: And, Walter, do you see any big differences between these three men? They're all 56 years old, all elected to Congress around the same time, '91, '95, '97.

Mr. SHAPIRO: The big difference is that Shadegg is the principal challenge to the Republican House establishment. At a point when almost too many of the class of '94 Republicans storming the barricades went native, discovered, `Ah, now that I'm in power I get the golf junkets. I can go to restaurants and not pay my bills,' Shadegg is sort of the revolutionary who has kept the true reformist faith.

BLOCK: What would you say the strengths are that Roy Blunt or John Boehner might bring to this race and why they might be able to take the role of majority leader?

Mr. SHAPIRO: The strength that Blunt brings to this race is, number one, he has the job. He was chosen by his colleagues as acting majority leader to replace DeLay when DeLay stepped aside when he was indicted. Number two, Blunt is a very effective political operative and that, to a large extent, if you want more of the same done competently without the total stench that ended up surrounding DeLay, Blunt is probably your candidate. For...

BLOCK: And John Boehner?

Mr. SHAPIRO: John Boehner is a don't-rock-the-boat candidate but who is not as flamboyantly tied to business as usual as Roy Blunt.

BLOCK: When this leadership fight really gets into full swing, what happens? How do they try to convince their fellow members that they're the guy to lead the charge? And essentially, are they lobbying to get that done?

Mr. SHAPIRO: Well, they're definitely lobbying. What is really funny about this is that this is an invisible election. Only the 231 House Republicans can vote. So the idea of the appearances on Sunday on Fox News, those sorts of public appearances are apt to be the rarity rather than as if this was an election with a much larger constituency. And it is interesting that Blunt has claimed that he has the votes to win right now but has not listed 116 Republicans who support him, because there has been a long history of people saying, `I'm with you. I'm with you. You can count on me.' And then people, in the secret ballot, abandon them.

BLOCK: Walter Shapiro is Washington bureau chief for Salon.com. Walter, thanks very much.

Mr. SHAPIRO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.