House Leadership Appears Largely Stable on Both Sides for 109th Congress

As the 108th Congress prepares to take its final votes, this also will be the week that the 109th Congress starts to take shape.

House freshmen are getting an indoctrination in the way things work, returning members are deciding whether to trade up to the more spacious offices of the soon-to-be-departed, and the House’s Republican Conference and Democratic Caucus are renewing the leases on their leadership teams.

Each will meet this week to elect their leaders and vote on the rules that will govern their respective parties.

Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., has brushed aside reports that he may retire and is preparing for re-election to the chamber’s top job.

Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, is stronger after his aggressive effort to redraw his state’s congressional district boundaries expanded his party’s grip on the House even as it earned him admonishments from the ethics committee.

Also expected to remain in place: Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio.

Although no GOP leadership titles are expected to change hands this week, it remains unclear whether Thomas M. Reynolds, R-N.Y., is interested in another two years of trying to boost his party’s numbers as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). Several GOP lawmakers said they expect Reynolds to stay put even though he has privately expressed frustration about the difficulty of the role considering the long odds against improving a majority in mid-term contests. He also has pointedly refused to announce whether he will seek another term.

“Right now he’s not saying one way or the other,” said NRCC spokesman Carl Forti. “He still wants to to talk to the Speaker and see if he’s still wanted in this role.”

Despite losing seats in the Nov. 2 election, Democrats expect to give Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., another term as minority leader, along with the rest of her leadership lineup: Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., and Caucus Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

“They know the best job that could be done was done,” Pelosi said last week. “I don’t foresee any changes,” in leadership.

Although Pelosi has asked Rep. Robert T. Matsui to remain in place as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), most observers think he will step aside after the results of two unfinished elections in Louisiana are complete.

That has not stopped Pelosi from showering praise on her fellow Californian, calling him a “maestro” in coordinating Democrats’ fundraising and campaign strategy in key races.

Although Matsui said he is “very confident” about the 2006 elections, he has not given any indication that he intends to remain at the DCCC next year. Pelosi would have sole discretion to pick a successor.

Republicans have previewed a few changes in party rules that will be debated in the conference meeting. They will consider changing the makeup of the GOP Steering Committee — the group that fills committee vacancies and chooses most committee chairmen — to give Texas its own representative, a privilege already granted to Florida and California.

Pelosi said she probably will organize the Democratic Steering Committee, which approves most minority party committee assignments, but Democrats are still awaiting word from Hastert about how large each committee will be next year and how the seats will be divided between the majority and minority.

Despite having lost two seats in the election, Pelosi said she believes Democrats are entitled to additional seats on committees. “We are still way behind what the Democrats have given Republicans when we were in the majority,” she said.

Hastert aides said no decision has been made yet on committee ratios.

Deciding how the seats will be apportioned is one of the spoils of victory controlled by the Speaker.

Neither party expects that to be resolved this week. Democrats said they expected to work out their committee details in December, while Republicans plan to wait until January to embark on that mission.

The leadership also expects to spend December considering changes to the rules governing the operation of the House, possibly including changes in the ethics rules triggered by dissatisfaction with the way a complaint against DeLay was handled.

House Rules Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., has proposed changing his committee’s rules in an effort to curtail the ethics committee, which was criticized by the GOP after rebuking DeLay for three separate violations.

Dreier sent a letter to members saying he wants to close a “loophole” in the ethics rules that determines how complaints are filed in an effort to limit the influence of outside interest groups in the process.

Joel Hefley, R-Colo., the ethics panel chairman, is expected to propose his own rule changes.

Hefley said he wants to make some House rules easier to follow and could alter others, including one that strictly limits the use of volunteers in congressional offices.

The changes proposed by Dreier and Hefley — and all other proposals by members — must first be approved by the Republican Conference at a meeting likely to take place the day before the opening of Congress.

The Republican Conference also will have to decide whether to grant a waiver to Dreier that would allow him to serve a fourth term as Rules chairman. House rules set a three-term limit for chairmanships unless a waiver is given. The rules must be approved on opening day, which is expected to be Jan. 4 .

Meanwhile, the representatives-elect are learning their way around, organizing themselves as a class and, on Nov. 19, drawing lots to determine how far away from the House floor their first office suites will be.

 

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