WASHINGTON – House Republican leaders Wednesday rejected calls to move up the election of a new majority leader to replace Tom DeLay before President Bush's State of the Union address Jan. 31.
Speaker Dennis Hastert decided Wednesday to stick with a Feb. 2 caucus election scheduled after DeLay, facing trial in Texas on charges of laundering campaign funds, said last weekend he would not try to regain the post.
Supporters of Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt, currently the No. 3 Republican in the House as party whip, had called this week for holding the election before the House reconvenes Jan. 31. Blunt, who has been acting as majority since DeLay's indictment, is seeking election to the job in a race against Ohio Rep. John Boehner, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
Blunt claims to have more support than Boehner has. But with many Republicans undecided and some calling for a third alternative, Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., has declined to take himself out of the running.
Fifty-six lawmakers are publicly supporting Blunt and 34 supporting Boehner. Both say they have additional supporters who have not approved disclosure of their names.
Ohio Rep. Deborah Pryce, who holds her party's No. 4 ranking position in the House as chairman of the GOP caucus, had been surveying Republican lawmakers about the possibility of moving the election up to the week before Bush's address.
DeLay, who had tried to get the election delayed until February in hopes that he would be tried and acquitted in a Texas court by then, announced last Saturday he would not seek re-election. He made the announcement after several Republicans expressed concerns about his ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty last week to three federal felony charges related to congressional influence peddling.