Despite efforts by a small band of House Republicans last week to convince their colleagues that a change in leadership was important, if not critical, to winning back a majority in 2008, the House Republican Conference overwhelmingly sided with the status quo Friday and handed landslide victories to Minority Leader-elect John Boehner (Ohio) and Minority Whip-elect Roy Blunt (Mo.).
Both leaders recast themselves in their campaigns and argued they would be agents for change in the 110th Congress, committing to return the Republican Party to its roots of fiscal conservatism and reform and to battle the new Democratic majority tooth and nail.
“We are going to work as a team and we are going to earn our way back into our majority,” Boehner told reporters after his victory, stressing the need “to fight for a smaller, less costly and more accountable federal government.” Boehner defeated Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, in a landslide 168-27 vote. One
vote was cast for Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton (Texas), who withdrew from the race Wednesday.
Similarly Blunt was candid about the need to shakeup the party agenda. “Frankly, [we need] to get rid of the bad habits that we may have developed in the 12 years in the majority,” he said. “It’s not our job to defend business as usual, it’s not our job to try to define the federal government in the biggest possible way, we need to do the right things. Our Conference is ready to do that.” Blunt soundly defeated Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) 137-57, with one Member abstaining.
Speculation brewed all last week that some combination of Members would attempt to nominate Chief Deputy Majority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) for the Whip job, or write in his name on the ballot, but there was no mischief during Friday’s leadership elections. The Conference also ruled the day before elections that write-in ballots would not be tallied in final vote counts. Blunt will maintain Cantor as his Chief Deputy Whip.
While the top elected leaders invoked the 1994 spirit that swept in a Republican House majority that year, Friday’s elections were a significant defeat for prominent conservatives Pence and Shadegg. Pence has been a darling of the outside conservative establishment — much of which endorsed his leadership candidacy — and Shadegg is also a former RSC chairman and a member of the 1994 class.
Rep. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) contended that his colleagues did not heed the call from voters on Election Day for reform within the party. “We haven’t hit the first stage, we’re still in denial,” Flake, a Pence ally, told reporters. “When you’re here you kind of drink your own bath water,” he said, a reference to a supposed inside-the-Beltway mentality.
Flake’s comments were seen as particularly critical of Blunt, who is the longest serving member of the current leadership team. Flake said it might be “doubly difficult” to convince voters the party got the message to change the way it does business.
There were few surprises in any of the downballot leadership races, with the exception of the four-way race for Republican Conference chairman. GOP Reps. Adam Putnam (Fla.) and Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) were widely seen as the frontrunners against Reps. Dan Lungren (Calif.) and Jack Kingston (Ga.).
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.