Republicans admit need for new leaders

Buffeted by scandal, House Republicans are clamoring for new
election-year leadership, and indicted Rep. Tom DeLay’s hopes of
returning to power as floor leader are dwindling.

“I do not want
Tom DeLay to return,” Rep. Heather Wilson of New Mexico, a perennial
election-year target of Democrats, said Friday.

“It’s clear that
we need to elect a new majority leader to restore the trust and
confidence of the American people,” said Rep. Jim Ramstad of Minnesota,
as two fellow Republicans circulated a petition calling for new

DeLay, a Texan whose fierce devotion to conservative
causes has helped nurture the Republican majority, gave no public
indication he was willing to abandon his quest to return to his
powerful post.

But his longtime friend, Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois, signaled he would not try to block the rank-and-file from acting.

is consistent with the speaker’s announcement … that House
Republicans would revisit this matter at the beginning of this year,”
said Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean, referring to the petition drive.

officials said an announcement on new elections could come within a few
days, before Hastert is scheduled to leave on an overseas trip.

speaker’s hold on power appears secure. Several officials said he has
been involved in discussions in recent days on a package of ethics
reform measures to be announced next week, part of a broader GOP
attempt to minimize any election-year taint of scandal.

Rep. Roy
Blunt of Missouri, who took over as majority leader temporarily when
DeLay stepped aside following his indictment on political
money-laundering charges in Texas, is certain to run for the post in
his own right if new elections are held.

Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, a former member of the leadership, is his likeliest rival, and there may be other contenders as well.

maneuvering occurred near the end of a week in which lobbyist Jack
Abramoff, the central figure in a growing public corruption
investigation and a man with close ties to Republicans, pleaded guilty
to conspiracy and several other charges in two federal courtrooms.

the same time, an Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that 49 percent of
those surveyed said they would prefer to see Democrats in control of
Congress, and 36 percent said Republicans.

DeLay insists he is
innocent of wrongdoing in the Texas case and says he intends to reclaim
his leadership post once he is cleared.

Hastert and other
Republicans accepted that arrangement temporarily last year, and DeLay
maneuvered to win the dismissal of charges or gain an acquittal by
early February.

But Abramoff’s guilty pleas appear to have
changed the political environment for Republicans 11 months before the
midterm elections.

“The situation is that Tom’s legal situation
doesn’t seem to be reaching clarity,” Rep. John Kline of Minnesota said
in an interview. “There are stories of more indictments or questions
associated with Jack Abramoff. And I think that Tom DeLay is going to
have to concentrate on that.”

DeLay spokesman Kevin Madden said
his boss “appreciates that a majority of his colleagues recognizes that
he remains committed to fulfilling his responsibilities as majority
leader and that he’ll be quickly exonerated in Texas.”

rules permit an election to fill the vacancy, and aides to Reps. Jeff
Flake of Arizona and Charles Bass of New Hampshire said the two men
were circulating a petition that would allow the rank and file to pick
new leadership quickly.

“The developments with Abramoff have
“brought home the fact that we need not just new leaders but a course
correction,” Flake said.

While Flake is a conservative in a safe
congressional district, others calling for a change were more moderate
Republicans who could face difficult re-election campaigns this fall.

New Mexico’s Wilson was among them.

said three of DeLay’s “former senior staff members have admitted or
have been implicated in corrupt and illegal activities to get money for
themselves by influencing legislation. Whether or not Mr. DeLay was
involved himself or knew this was going on, he is responsible for his


Associated Press writers Fred Frommer, Sam Hananel, Andrew Miga and Kimberly Hefling contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Associated Press