House Republicans name Boehner new minority leader
He says GOP will 'earn our way back into the majority'
WASHINGTON -- Cast into the minority by an angry electorate, House Republicans chose Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio yesterday to lead a return to power as quickly as possible.
"We're going to earn our way back into the majority," he vowed.
To do that, he said, "we need to fight for a smaller, less costly, and more accountable federal government."
Boehner defeated Representative Mike Pence of Indiana for minority leader 168 to 27, a secret ballot vote that demonstrated fellow lawmakers do not hold him responsible for the election losses the party suffered Nov. 7. The Ohio Republican has been serving as majority leader, the second in command , since February.
Another leadership veteran, Roy Blunt of Missouri, won a new term as party whip, defeating Representative John Shadegg of Arizona, 137 to 57.
"You know, it's not our job to defend business as usual, not our job to try to define the federal government in the biggest possible way," Blunt said.
As Republican leader, Boehner's job, at least in part, will be to oppose legislation advanced by Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker-in-waiting, and to help develop alternatives designed to appeal to the electorate in 2008.
"I think what the American people care about are: Who's going to hold down spending in Washington, who's going to cut their taxes, who's going to make sure that America is strong and can defend itself and make sure that it's safe and secure for American families," he said at the news conference.
At the same time, Boehner will have to keep in mind the wishes of the White House, where President Bush will be in his final two years, and a need to work more cooperatively with Democrats if Republicans are to succeed in passing legislation.
Boehner's election as the top party leader followed a decision by Speaker J. Dennis Hastert not to seek the post following the party's losses. Hastert, of Illinois, is the longest-serving Republican speaker in history, a position that is filled by a member of the majority party. He announced last week that he would remain in Congress.
Also notable was that while eight Republicans -- the entire leadership -- spoke at a news conference -- none mentioned Bush in prepared remarks.
The president has been criticized by many lawmakers in the days since Nov. 7, and some have said privately that he probably cost the GOP some seats by waiting until after the election to jettison Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
In campaigning for their support in recent days, Boehner wrote fellow Republicans that the election had been in part a referendum on the administration and the war in Iraq -- factors beyond their control. "What we can control is the third part of our loss: the simple fact that we failed to live up to the expectations of voters who had supported us since 1994," he wrote.
After more than a decade in power, he noted Republicans had struggled with scandal: Representative Tom DeLay stepped down under pressure, Representative Randy Cunningham pleaded guilty to bribery, and Representative Robert W. Ney confessed to corruption charges.
These cases, as well as that of Representative Mark Foley, who had sent sexually explicit computer messages to teenage pages, "mainly acted to confirm underlying concerns that voters had about us.
"They thought we were doing more to protect our jobs instead of . . . real problems they face in their everyday lives," Boehner wrote four days after the election.
Boehner, 56, is a 14-year probusiness veteran of Congress with a solidly conservative voting record.
With Hastert's preelection travels curtailed following the Foley scandal, the Ohioan campaigned extensively for Republican candidates.
In the final days before the election, he was one of several senior leaders to make numerous appearances on cable television and talk radio programs favored by conservatives, part of an effort to maximize turnout at the polls.