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House GOP moves quickly to fill leadership post

House Republicans on Wednesday named three GOP congressmen to assume the duties of Rep. Tom DeLay, who stepped down from his post as House majority leader after a Texas grand jury indicted him for alleged state campaign finance violations.

Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, the House Majority Whip and third highest-ranking Republican in the chamber, was elected temporary majority leader and will oversee most of DeLay's administrative and management duties, including the scheduling of votes and floor debates.

Rep. David Dreier, R-California, chairman of the Rules Committee, will work with other committee chairmen to help shepherd the GOP policy agenda through the House.

Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, currently serves as the top deputy whip and will assume additional responsibilities in the whip's office. Congressional whips are responsible for building support among members on key legislative issues.

"The conference has to go on. We have work to do. We have an agenda that we want to move through," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, who announced the changes in a Wednesday afternoon news conference. "The wisdom of the conference today was to move forward."

Hastert cited a number of pending issues that will top the legislative agenda in the coming weeks, including hurricane relief, the federal budget and immigration.

Blunt was elected to Congress in 1996 and represents Missouri's 7th Congressional District, which includes Springfield. When DeLay was elected majority leader after the November 2002 elections, Blunt was elected by his Republican colleagues to succeed DeLay as majority whip after serving only three terms in Congress.

Before joining Congress, Blunt was Missouri's secretary of state and later president of his alma matter, Southwest Baptist University. In 2004 his son Matt was elected Missouri governor, a post the senior Blunt ran for but did not win in 1992.

Dreier represents California's 26th District, which covers the northeastern suburbs of Los Angeles. He was first elected in 1980 amid fellow Californian Ronald Reagan's landslide victory over President Jimmy Carter at the top of the ballot.

He is serving his fourth term as chairman of the Rules Committee, where he recently oversaw a number of controversial changes to the House rules that Democrats argued were intended in part to benefit DeLay.

Cantor was elected in 2000 and represents parts of Richmond, Virginia, and its neighboring suburbs. His first re-election bid, in 2002, received a degree of national attention primarily because of his well-known opponent, former Congressman Ben Jones.

Jones, who was best known for playing "Cooter" in the 1970s television series "The Dukes of Hazzard," operated a small museum and tourist attraction in the district based on the TV program.

Cantor easily won the race and shortly after the election was named chief deputy majority whip, bypassing more senior members for the post.

Since then, he has served as Blunt's principal lieutenant in rounding up Republican votes on key issues. He is the only Jewish Republican in the House.

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