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Hastert Will Seek Another Term as House Speaker

By Mike Allen
Staff Writer
Sunday, July 24, 2005; A08

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who has been publicly vague about whether he will give up the reins at the end of this Congress, told a group of supporters last week that he plans to run again and serve as speaker for the rest of President Bush's second term.

Republican officials said they are relieved by the development because it postpones what is likely to be a brutal succession fight that would be a distraction from next year's midterm elections, which are historically tough for the party in power, and from Bush's domestic agenda, which is already having a tough time on Capitol Hill.

Hastert, 63, is criticized for sometimes failing to force tough decisions but is credited with having the patience and moral authority to push members of an occasionally fractious caucus to reach pragmatic consensus. Hastert was first elected in 1986 and is serving his ninth term in the House. He has recently embarked on several high-profile fundraising swings, including an appearance for Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), a moderate who sometimes bucks the conservative leadership.

Most politicians make such an announcement with fanfare. But Hastert revealed his plans at a fundraiser that was closed to the media.

Ron Bonjean, Hastert's communications director, said the speaker told an audience of about 80 at the Chicago Club on Monday that he will run again "at the urging of his constituents and the president." The audience responded with a standing ovation, according to an attendee.

White House officials said Bush is comfortable with Hastert, and that the president and Andrew H. Card Jr., his chief of staff, have long hoped that Hastert would remain throughout the second term.

House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) said Bush has often brought the speaker up in conversation, saying how much he enjoys and appreciates him. "We are a nation at war, and Denny Hastert is battle-tested and offers stability," he said.

Hastert has yet to tell other lawmakers of his decision. Some have expressed concern about his health after he was hospitalized in April because of kidney stones. But some of those members said last week that he looked tan from working in his garden and appeared to have lost some weight.

The most immediate beneficiary is House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), who holds the No. 2 slot in leadership, because it gives him a chance to be cleared by the House ethics committee before the leadership jockeying begins. "What he needs is time," a Republican leadership aide said.

Dan Mattoon, a Republican lobbyist who helped Hastert run his first race for the U.S. House, called him "the Elmer's glue who holds the House Republican majority together" and pointed out that he keeps passing bills despite the narrowest of majorities. The House has 231 Republicans, 202 Democrats, one independent and one vacancy, which is in a Republican district.

In addition to DeLay, others who might be likely to seek the speakership are House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.); Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (N.Y.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee; Rep. John A. Boehner (Ohio), chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce; Rep. Eric I. Cantor (Va.), chief deputy majority whip; Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), chairman of the House Republican Study Committee; and Rep. Jack Kingston (Ga.), vice chairman of the House Republican Conference.

Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Republican Conference, told party colleagues in a letter June 21 that she will run for a third term in November 2006.

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