Hastert Vows To Run in ’04

Posted October 1, 2003 at 6:53pm

Hoping to quell potentially divisive retirement rumors, Speaker Dennis Hastert (Ill.) privately told his fellow Republican leaders Wednesday that he will definitely run for re-election in 2004.

According to GOP sources, Hastert made the decision to inform his colleagues of his plans in order to remove one possible obstacle to party unity at a time when Republicans at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are under siege on a variety of fronts.

“Right now he thinks we need to be united,” said a Republican leadership aide.

For Hastert, fostering unity means removing any doubt that he will remain in the Speaker’s chair in the 109th Congress, assuming the GOP keeps control of the House.

Early Wednesday afternoon, before the regularly scheduled elected leadership meeting, Hastert huddled with Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (Ohio) to convey the message that he’s not going anywhere.

In a brief interview later on Wednesday, Hastert said, “I haven’t made my announcement yet, but I do intend to run for re-election. We file [for re-election] in Illinois this month, and I just wanted to let my leadership know that.”

With many Congressional Republicans already nervous about the state of the economy and the uncertain situation on the ground in Iraq, the GOP now faces the headache of dealing with the growing controversy over the alleged leaking by the White House of the identity of a CIA agent, the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

At the Republican Conference meeting Wednesday morning, Hastert mounted a strong defense of the Bush administration and its handling of the Wilson story.

The Speaker called the current White House “the most ethical White House” he had ever seen and emphasized the need for Republicans to stand united behind President Bush in the face of attacks from Democrats and other critics.

Leadership sources suggested that it was no coincidence that Hastert made his re-election plans known on the same day he rallied fellow lawmakers to defend the White House.

And some pointed to the close personal relationship the Speaker has developed with the president as evidence that Hastert would run for re-election not only next year but again in 2006, assuming Bush wins another term in office.

“I can’t see him leaving as long as the president needs him,” said a senior Republican lawmaker.

Hastert’s decision to run for re-election is not surprising, given that he is said by those close to him to still enjoy his job. He has also maintained a grueling schedule, raising money for himself and dozens of his GOP colleagues at a breakneck pace.

At the same time, rumors of his potential retirement have long circulated in Washington, perhaps because of the huge stakes involved and the fight to replace him that could ensue.

DeLay wields enormous influence among Republicans in the House and on K Street and would seem to be Hastert’s natural successor. But his outspoken nature and brushes with controversy have allowed speculation to persist that Blunt or even some darkhorse candidate could step up to challenge the Texan for the Speakership whenever Hastert chooses to step down.

Any suggestion that DeLay and Blunt might one day face each other is enough to annoy both men and their staffs. For now, Hastert’s determination to stay precludes such talk.

“I think that everyone has assumed that Denny would run again, [and] that is great news for our Conference,” said Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a close Hastert ally.