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An historic change election but look who's still in charge: McConnell, Pelosi, Hoyer, Boehner, Reid

November 17, 2010 |  2:22 am

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele

House Democrats assemble today to pick caucus leaders for the new Congress.

Lots of fresh new faces, right, after an historically disastrous showing like Nov. 2?


Outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi has decided she'll stay on come January as leader of the minority. Maryland's Steny Hoyer will have the No. 2 job and Pelosi has crafted an ill-defined compromise to make South Carolina's James Clyburn, the highest-ranking African American in Congress, something called assistant leader. Anything to keep the same old trio atop the smaller pile.

Leadership affairs on the Republican side of Capitol Hill are already settled with Ohio's ex-Speaker John Boehner to become the new speaker, Virginia's Eric Cantor as his No. 2 and Kentucky's Mitch McConnell still GOP minority leader in the Senate with Arizona's Jon Kyl as his No. 2. Harry Reid will still lead the diminished Democratic majority.

(UPDATE: 12:22 p.m. GOP House members unanimously elect John Boehner the new Speaker. Dems vote 150-46 to keep Nancy Pelosi as minority caucus leader.

The chairman of the Democratic National Committee is the same, President's Obama's favorite bilingual, Harvard-educated ex-governor, Tim Kaine.

But new uncertainty erupted Tuesday over on the Republican National Committee, which was supposed to be the winning organization. When the GOP controls....

...the White House, the president spots his handpicked choice atop the RNC, as George W. Bush did with Jim Gilmore, Marc Racicot and others. But when one of those Democrats is in the Oval Office, the choice of the crucial national leader is left to the 166 state chairs and committeemen on the RNC.

In 2009, that led to a multi-ballot struggle won by Michael Steele, the 52-year-old first African-American chairman of the party of Lincoln. Steele's term expires in January. Within weeks of his installation, however, grumbling began among D.C. Republicans over Steele's RNC leadership, or lack thereof. There ensued numerous flaps over RNC healthcare provisions, operatives' expensed visits to a strip club, lavish meetings in Hawaii and fundraising tactics and results. Not to mention various media missteps and Steele's own book tour travels.

So severe was the concern over Steele's leadership that an ad hoc committee of party elders and former chairmen met secretly last spring to draw up a list of recommended changes, which were delivered to Steele by a delegation. He paid little heed. Meanwhile, Bush strategist Karl Rove, former chairman Ed Gillespie and others organized half a dozen outside fundraising committees to detour money around the ineffective RNC and take advantage of what appeared early on to be a propitious election year for the GOP.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, himself a former RNC chair, current chairman of the Republican Governors Assn. and a likely 2012 presidential candidate, has been actively seeking a powerful challenger to Steele.

Now, perhaps a final straw: The RNC's political director, Gentry Collins, resigned Tuesday and in a very un-country-club-kind-of-way issued a stinging, detailed four-page indictment of Steele's committee leadership, focusing especially on alleged organizational and fundraising lapses. According to Collins, Republicans' historic election gains on Nov. 2 would have been even greater with proper RNC leadership and better fundraising.

The detail-laden rebuke suggests that Collins himself may soon be joining the lengthening line of aspirants to the job that include Michigan party Chairman Saul Anuzis.

Steele himself has claimed to be undecided about seeking a second term, although in recent interviews he appeared to be making a case for it, citing among other things the success of his "Fire Pelosi" campaign bus tour this fall with Sarah Palin as headliner.

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Dancing with the Pols: Big week in D.C.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Ron Edmonds / Associated Press (Steele, file).