ABC News’ Rick Klein Reports: A conservative California congressman announced Friday that he’s mounting a leadership challenge to House Minority Leader John Boehner, as the GOP continues to assess the fallout from last week’s election losses.
Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., becomes the first rank-and-file House member to announce his intent to challenge the top House Republican in next week’s leadership elections. The No. 2 and No. 3 House Republicans have said they’re stepping down from their posts, but Boehner is seeking another term as minority leader.
“I am embarking on this effort because I think our Party is in trouble,” Lungren wrote in a letter to colleagues Friday afternoon. “If we don’t admit our difficulties and address them aggressively, we not only run the risk of becoming a permanent Congressional Minority but we will do a disservice to our nation.”
Lungren’s bid — coming on the heels of an election where Republicans lost at least 22 House seats — represents a conservative challenge to Boehner, as many in the party advocate a back-to-the-basics approach to rebuilding the party. But most House insiders consider Lungren’s attempt to be a long-shot at best; Boehner retains strong ties to his members despite last week’s losses, and he has been lobbying colleagues heavily to maintain his status.
Lungren, 62, narrowly won reelection last week to a third consecutive term representing suburban Sacramento. His father was Richard Nixon’s personal physician, and Lungren previously served 10 years representing Long Beach in the House, from 1979-1989, before becoming California’s attorney general.
Lungren lost the California governor’s race to Democrat Gray Davis in a lopsided 1998 election, in a campaign where Davis portrayed Lungren as out-of-step with Californians on abortion rights, off-shore drilling, and banning assault weapons.
In May, ABC’s Brian Ross reported that Lungren attended a conference of aviation industry lobbyists in Hawaii this past winter, via a loophole in campaign finance laws that allowed him to charge some to his campaign committee $5,000 in first-class airfare and four nights at a posh resort.
Lungren’s office points that the trip was pre-cleared by the House ethics committee and the Federal Election Commission.
“Organizations have their conventions usually at nice places, and I’ll admit — I like to go to that particular one,” Lungren told Ross. “I don’t understand why you have such a big deal about pools. I’m a California kid, I grew up around pools. We do a lot of business around pools. . . . I probably wouldn’t have been in Pittsburgh in January. Do I look like I would go to Pittsburgh in January?”
Responding to the announcement, Boehner, R-Ohio, released a statement: "Dan Lungren is a respected member of our conference and a man deeply committed to the principles that have defined our party since the beginning.”