WASHINGTON – House Republicans on Wednesday re-elected John Boehner as leader of their depleted ranks while putting together a more conservative team to represent them in the next, Democratic-controlled, Congress.
In Boehner's second term as House GOP leader, the Ohio Republican must deal with the aftermath of an election in which his party lost at least 20 seats. They will go into the 111th session of Congress in January with less than 180 seats in the 435-seat chamber and, for the first time in eight years, dealing with a Democratic president.
Boehner put an optimistic spin on the situation: "The months ahead will present Republicans with an unprecedented opportunity to renew our drive for smaller, more accountable government," he said.
A popular leader with solid conservative credentials, Boehner was re-elected with only a token challenge from Rep. Dan Lungren of California.
But his two chief deputies, party whip Roy Blunt of Missouri and Republican Conference chairman Adam Putnam of Florida, resigned after the election.
They were replaced by Eric Cantor of Virginia as whip and Mike Pence of Indiana as conference chair, who both ran without opposition. Both are leading members of the Republican Study Committee, the conservative caucus that now represents more than half of all House Republicans.
"I'm going to continue to be my same old conservative self," Pence said.
Still, Republicans said they would work with the incoming Obama administration and with House Democrats when possible. "We'll give the president-elect the benefit of the doubt," Boehner said. "When he is offering solutions to the American people that we are in agreement with, we'll be right there with him."
"We are going to serve as the honest opposition," said Cantor, who is in his fourth term as he rises to his party's No. 2 position.
Boehner, first elected to Congress in 1990, is a conservative who aligned himself with Newt Gingrich as Republicans fought their way back into power in 1995.
While a staunch supporter of the Bush administration on such issues as Iraq and the benefits of tax cuts, Boehner has also worked closely with Democrats. As former chairman of the committee in charge of education and labor issues, he was a key player in moving the No Child Left Behind education act and major pension reform.
Boehner narrowly defeated Blunt in January 2006 to become Republican Majority Leader, after Tom DeLay of Texas left the post. A year later, after Republicans lost their majority in the 2006 midterm elections and Illinois' Dennis Hastert gave up the speakership, Boehner assumed leadership of the party.
Republicans emerging from a five-hour party meeting generally were upbeat.
Republicans have "shed the skin of the Bush administration," said Rep. Zach Wamp of Tennessee. "Every day is a good day when you are on your way back up."
"There's nothing quite as clarifying as the wilderness," said Pence, also is in his fourth term.
The party also chose Pete Sessions of Texas to head the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is responsible for supporting Republicans running for the House. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who headed the NRCC for the 2008 elections, withdrew from the running shortly before Wednesday's vote.
Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan was re-elected Republican Policy Committee chairman, John Carter of Texas won another term as conference secretary and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington became the new conference vice-chair.
Separately Wednesday, the Congressional Black Caucus elected Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., to succeed Carolyn C. Kilpatrick, D-Mich., to head the group in the next Congress. The House also swore in the 42nd House member of that caucus, Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, who took the seat vacated by the death of Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones.
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