Now that "Top Gun" has flown the coop, the interesting stuff begins.
Republicans in the House we are talking to say that the Cunningham exit will be the first real test to see how much influence Leader in Limbo Tom Delay actually still has.
Duke Cunningham had a seat on House Appropriations, and now that seat is up for grabs. The thinking is that another California Republican will get it, but word out of leadership office is that that seat is not necessarily a lock for a Left Coast heiney. Appropriations Committee chair, Jerry Lewis, a Californian, has told other committee members that he intends to fight hard to keep Cunningham's seat in California's grips.
Acting majority leader Roy Blunt is said to be pushing to give the Approps seat to a loyal Republican not necessarily from California, though no names have yet been floated. Obviously, Appropriations seats are some of the most coveted in the House.
Under normal circumstances, the Majority Leader would have a bit more say than the average member of the the House Republican Steering Committee, which makes the committee assignments. Typically, Tom Delay has had what amounts to two votes on the committee. House Speaker Dennis Hastert's vote counts as five.
But it isn't yet clear that Blunt has that two-vote power to flex, and Hastert hasn't clarified matters. According to one House insider, Delay expressed his opinion to Hastert: Blunt should not have the extra say over his fellow members. But Hastert may need to give Blunt something, if only to ensure that Blunt remains a viable leadership figure to the caucus.
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