Leach exit would give Dems opening

Should House Republican leaders pass over Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) again for the International Relations Committee chairmanship and Leach retire, it would likely spell a Democratic pickup, some Republicans concede. The scenario cannot be far from Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) mind. In 2001, House Republican leaders gave Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) the committee chairmanship — skipping Leach, who had more seniority — to keep Hyde from retiring.
Should House Republican leaders pass over Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) again for the International Relations Committee chairmanship and Leach retire, it would likely spell a Democratic pickup, some Republicans concede.

The scenario cannot be far from Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) mind.

In 2001, House Republican leaders gave Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) the committee chairmanship — skipping Leach, who had more seniority — to keep Hyde from retiring.
File photo
If Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) is passed over, it could mean a pickup for the Democrats.


This time, neither the Speaker nor anyone else in leadership is sending any overt signals that Leach, in his 15th term, will succeed Hyde, who must step down in 2007 after three terms as chairman.

What’s more, Reps. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) announced Tuesday that they would seek the chairmanship and have been aggressively courting higher-ups.

Referring to Burton, in his 11th term, a House Republican aide said: “He’s been meeting with leadership and discussing a run in the past few weeks.”

Ros-Lehtinen, now serving her seventh term, said she has issued a “packet about the work I’ve done … and I’ve talked to folks about my campaign for the chairmanship.”

The Speaker’s spokesman, Ron Bonjean, did not return messages seeking comment about Hastert’s plans for the committee chairmanship or any conversations that may have taken place between House GOP leaders and would-be chairmen.

For now, Leach refuses to comment on what impact, if any, getting passed over for the committee chairmanship would have on his reelection plans.

“As far as I know, this Congress runs for another year and a half,” Leach spokesman Gregory Wierzynski said, “and there’s no indication that Henry Hyde is about to give up the gavel” in the middle of the 109th Congress. Leach could not be reached for comment.

Unlike Hyde, who represents a solidly Republican district in the Chicago suburbs, Leach comes from the Democrat-rich southeastern corner of Iowa. In Linn and Johnson counties, the two most populous in Leach’s 2nd District, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry trounced President Bush.

As Greg Speed, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said of the 2nd: “It’s the most Democratic district in the entire state. It would be a prime pickup opportunity.”

Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), and Iowa Republican officials dismissed talk of Leach’s retiring, although there has been speculation for years that the centrist might retire, with Congress in the hands of conservatives.

Forti declined to comment on what kind of race Republicans would face if Leach retired. Ron Slechta, a former GOP chairman in Washington County, in the heart of the district, said, “With the Iowa City and Johnson County being strongly Democratic, it’s probably hard to hold on to” without Leach.
While Hyde’s reelection plans are not certain, most Republican officials in Washington and Illinois expect the congressman, who is in his 16th term and is contending with some health problems, to retire after this Congress.

Yesterday, Republican state Sen. Peter Roskam of Illinois, who would like to succeed Hyde in his 6th District House seat, met with Hyde and NRCC officials, a source close to Roskam said.

Since Roskam’s chief GOP rival, state Sen. Dan Cronin, announced a few weeks ago that he would not run, Roskam has been the odds-on favorite.

For now, at least one member of the House International Relations Committee is treating Hyde as if he will remain chairman for the foreseeable future.

“He is our chairman, and should he run again and seek a waiver [to remain chairman], I frankly would be first in line to say he deserves one,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.).

Earlier this year, Smith was removed as chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee for bucking leadership on several occasions. Smith said he is “not surprised by anything” when it comes to House politics.

Smith, who is more senior than Burton and Ros-Lehtinen but not Leach, added that seniority should play “at least some role” in deciding who becomes chairman. Ros-Lehtinen declined to comment on the question of seniority. “Everybody’s allowed to run,” she said. “Thank goodness we live in a democracy.”

The United States India Political Action Committee put out a statement yesterday endorsing Ros-Lehtinen’s candidacy.

“We have an absolutely full plate of very important issues,” Smith said. “We need to keep our hand on the oars here and do what we can to make progress on these important pieces of legislation.

“There’s a full plate. My focus is on doing the work and backing my chairman as our leader.”