Who'll be the parents after House GOP's family crisis?


It's of more than passing interest to note that House Speaker Dennis Hastert decided to cancel a trip to India (dare we say a "fact finding" excursion?) to come back to Washington. Why did he return, especially since Congress is not in session? For two reasons: First, he decided he had to put the leadership stamp of approval on a GOP lobbying reform effort. Second, he had to make sure his job as speaker was not in jeopardy.

In case you haven't noticed, the House Republicans are having a family crisis. Now that Tom DeLay has seen the light–understanding that he wouldn't exactly be the guy to lead the party in its reform efforts–the race to get his job as majority leader is on. For now, it has become a two-man contest between the acting majority leader, Roy Blunt of Missouri, and Education Committee Chairman John Boehner of Ohio, who is trying to make a comeback into leadership. Both of these men, I should point out, have been around for a while. And neither is representative of a "new generation" of leaders ready to reform the system. Oh, well.

But here's the interesting part about internal congressional leadership races: They are secret ballots. Candidates can often emerge from the woodwork at the last minute. They define fluidity, because members–when they are asked who they will support–always tell you yes, they will support you, because no one will know. Vote counts are impossible to know. And it's even harder when the backbenchers–as they are–circulate petitions to members urging them not to commit to anyone publicly–but no one so far has committed to real reform.

So keep watching–because the next House majority leader is out there, only we don't know it. This internal battle is key for the GOP: As Democrats continue to call the Republicans a corrupt and out-of-control majority, the GOP has to prove otherwise. Its majority could hang in the balance.