Ohio Rep. John A. Boehner's surprise election to the No. 2 Republican leadership post in the House of Representatives won't change much. Boehner is just enough of a reformer to look good to those nervous about this year's mid-term elections and the growing lobbying scandal on Capitol Hill, but his victory is a triumph more of style than substance.
Washington insiders said this GOP leadership election was Missouri Rep. Roy Blount's to lose. He did. Here's what you need to know: Blount was a close ally of embattled former Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, served as interim majority leader after the indicted DeLay resigned and has lobbyist family members. Boehner (pronounced BAY-ner), a former aide to Newt Gingrich, was once caught passing out tobacco-industry contribution checks on the House floor. Neither Boehner nor Blount inspired confidence that lobbyists would be pushed back decisively, despite the influence-peddling scandal revolving around Washington super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his ties to many Republicans and some Democrats. But for Republicans seeking to look reform-minded as the Democrats sharpen corruption charges for the coming campaign, Blount was too close to business-as-usual. Boehner at least looks a little more distant, and he sounds more reformist in his pet crusade against member "earmarks." Boehner, however, sounded decidedly uncomfortable dancing around Tim Russert's questions Sunday on "Meet the Press," and the New York Times reported that 14 of Boehner's former aides now work as lobbyists.
This election has added impact here. In the long run, it looks like local Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, a rising member of the Republican leadership team but still relatively new to the House, was wise to take himself out of consideration early. That restraint now could strengthen his future, especially if Republicans do retain the House majority in the November elections. Given Reynolds' already good record in protecting federal support regionally, that could pay future dividends here.
For now, though, the Republicans have a new House majority leader -- one who looks a lot like the old one.