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Boehner's Upcoming Congress Already Has Personnel Challenges


Lawmakers are set to return to Capitol Hill, where Republicans will have control of both chambers of Congress. But while Republicans have a lot to celebrate, House Speaker John Boehner is grappling with a number of challenges, including reports that a member of the Republican Leadership of the House spoke at a gathering of white supremacists once. Juana Summers covers Congress for NPR. Hi, Juana.


SIEGEL: And Congressman Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who is the House majority whip, released a statement today. What does he say for himself?

SUMMERS: Scalise's comments today are about a group called the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, and it has ties to the former KKK leader David Duke. In the statement, this is the first time he has admitted to speaking for this group saying that it was a mistake he regrets and also that he opposes the divisive racial and religious views of groups like these. And that they're even opposed to his own Catholic faith. There've been a number reports of this surfacing over the weekend. But today's the first time that Congressman Scalise has actually come out himself and said, yes, I did make these remarks a decade ago, but I want this to disavow those, and I want to continue working and serving my constituents as whip.

SIEGEL: This was back in 2002. So he's going to survive and remain whip?

SUMMERS: You know, it seems that way. He's gotten the support of other influential House Republicans such as House Speaker John Boehner, Kevin McCarthy, the leader. Boehner said that Scalise has made an error in judgment that happened more than a decade ago but that he has full confidence in Scalise's ability to continue on as whip. It'll be really interesting to watch this next week when lawmakers are back and see what happens. Will he retain that support? And will more allegations come out? Or is this just the end of the road?

SIEGEL: What are some other challenges facing the Republican speaker of the House as the 114th Congress begins next week?

SUMMERS: This really should be a time of celebration for Republicans. Speaker Boehner will have one of the largest House majorities in a century, but he's also got a couple other flaps coming from members of his own party. Take Congressman Blake Farenthold of Texas. He's currently being sued by a former aide over allegations of discrimination. And there's also New York Congressman Michael Grimm. He announced Monday late at night that he will resign from Congress after a guilty plea to tax fraud.

SIEGEL: Now, Congressman Grimm whose district in New York City, includes Staten Island and a bit of Brooklyn, had been asked after he entered the guilty plea, are you going to quit? Here he is being pursued by reporters.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Congressman, will you resign?

CONGRESSMAN MICHAEL GRIMM: No, as I said before, as long as I'm able to serve, I'm going to serve. As of right now, I'm still in the capacity to serve and that's exactly what I plan on doing.

SIEGEL: That was just last week. What happened?

SUMMERS: Big change there. Grimms' statement - he said that he'd made this decision after a lot of prayer and that he concluded that he could no longer be fully as effective. In response, really interesting, Boehner had a very short response, just two sentences after that decision that he emailed to reporters. Boehner said that Grimm's decision was honorable and with the best intents of both his constituents and Congress. Boehner, of course, someone who cares a lot about Congress as an institution. So I think that says a lot about where he is on this one.

SIEGEL: Juana, thank you.

SUMMERS: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Juana Summers who covers Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
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