GOP Leadership for the 111th Congress Unclear

Posted October 15, 2008 at 11:43am

House party leaders are planning to hold leadership elections for the 111th Congress during the week of Nov. 17, a process expected to leave the Democratic hierarchy intact but — depending on the number of GOP seats lost on Election Day — could shake up the GOP lineup.

Poised to expand their majority by as many as 30 seats on Nov. 4, House Democrats have little reason to change the makeup of their leadership. With that in mind, Democrats anticipate continued tenures for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), Whip Jim Clyburn (S.C.), Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) and Caucus Vice Chairman John Larson (Conn.).

The one exception may be Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman. While typically a two-year gig, it is not unprecedented for a lawmaker to sign up for another two years at the campaign arm.

A DCCC spokesman said it is up to Van Hollen and “at the discretion of the Speaker” to decide if he will remain in the post through 2010. Other names floated for the chairmanship include Reps. Kendrick Meek (Fla.), Bruce Braley (Iowa) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.).

A Van Hollen spokeswoman said the Maryland lawmaker has not told his office about his plans with DCCC.

Republican leaders could be at risk in their jobs, depending on the extent of their party’s losses on Election Day. Already at a 36-seat disadvantage, House Republicans may decide to hold Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and/or Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) responsible for a devastating Election Day outcome.

House Republican aides said it is premature to speculate about leadership elections given the focus on Nov. 4. Still, rumors abound that a conservative Member such as Chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) could mount a credible challenge.

Talk of Cantor trying to unseat Boehner or Blunt has “been out there for a long time,” one House Republican aide said. Cantor is “the only one who seems to be out there as a real heir apparent, at least according to conventional wisdom.”

Ultimately, any leadership shakeup will depend on whether Republicans “get hammered in November,” the aide said. The staffer said big losses could trigger “a real desire to move to the next generation of leadership.”

However, many Members like Boehner, “and that may be well enough,” the aide said. “And the fact that there’s really no person to come in and take his place, the only real question is whether Eric Cantor is going to challenge.”

But a Cantor spokesman said the likelihood that Cantor would make a bid for Boehner’s job is “very little, I can guarantee.” Boehner and Cantor “have a great working relationship,” he said, and people who say Cantor is gunning for the Minority Leader post “are playing parlor games. … I’d be very shocked if you saw anything like that happen.”

Whether Cantor would look to supplant Blunt remains unclear as well. Blunt has long been a mentor to the younger lawmaker, but Cantor is ambitious and many believe he won’t sit still for long. But for now, Blunt isn’t speculating about the future.

“Mr. Blunt’s focus remains on helping House Republicans in every way possible going into Election Day,” spokeswoman Antonia Ferrier said.

Although Boehner has his critics, many Republicans find him likeable. Plus, the Minority Leader — first elected to his job in the wake of the 2006 elections — has recently worked to restore his relationships with conservative lawmakers.

Members may even be willing to overlook Boehner’s missteps, such as his handling of the bipartisan $700 billion bailout bill, some Republicans said. “One thing I would not underestimate is John Boehner’s popularity in our Conference,” a Republican aide said. Boehner is the “guy everyone wants to go hang out with because he’s freaking Dean Martin. He smokes cigarettes and goes to have glasses of wine. He’s the fun, cool guy.”

House GOP conservatives can expect at least some change in their leadership ranks next Congress. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, cannot run again when his term expires later this year. An RSC spokesman said Reps. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) and Tom Price (Ga.) have both interviewed with the RSC founders.