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US House Republicans Choose New Leader

After weeks of intense campaigning and behind-the-scenes maneuvering, Republicans in the House of Representatives have chosen a new leader, replacing Congressman Tom DeLay, who was forced to step down last year after being indicted on criminal charges in Texas.

The person initially favored to win the most votes, Congressman Roy Blunt of Missouri, lost in an upset, with political implications in this legislative election year.

By a vote of 122 to 109, House Republicans elected John Boehner of Ohio to lead them through what promises to be the most challenging year they have had since President Bush came to office.

Boehner will take charge after a tumultuous period following the withdrawal from the leadership race of Congressman Tom DeLay, who was pressured by fellow Republicans to step down as Majority Leader.

DeLay was indicted last year on criminal charges in Texas involving campaign finance laws, and was also tainted by ethics issues and close ties to disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

After the completion of Thursday's voting, which required two ballots and eliminated a third contender, Congressman Boehner addressed reporters.

"I think what you are going to see us do is rededicate ourselves to dealing with issues, big issues that the American people expect us to deal with, in terms of trying to improve their incomes, their prospects for jobs, and to provide better security for Americans all over this country," he said.

Boehner competed as a candidate dedicated to change, in an atmosphere where Republicans are trying to recast themselves as the party of reform.

Republicans have been shaken by the Abramoff influence-pedaling scandal, as well as such embarrassing events as the bribery confession of a former key [Republican] lawmaker Randy Cunningham.

Ethics in Congress is now a key issue heading toward mid-term elections in November.

While opposition Democrats also have concerns, the Abramoff matter could produce additional corruption-related indictments, with at least one other Republican lawmaker under scrutiny.

On Wednesday, the House approved a resolution marking the first stage of legislative efforts to strengthen ethics rules. Extensive lobbying reform legislation is expected by the end of this month.

The vote can be seen as an indication many Republicans felt their image with Americans had suffered too much damage.

Congressman Blunt was conciliatory in speaking to reporters, saying Republicans will be united.

"We're going to move forward with a great team. We are going to work to make the Congress better, but more importantly we are going to work to make the country better, and I look forward to working with John Boehner, the Majority Leader, to make that happen," he said.

The position of Majority Leader is the second most powerful in the House of Representatives hierarchy.

Untouched by the leadership change is House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who will now have Boehner at his side as Republicans attempt to push President Bush's agenda through the House.