WASHINGTON (CNN) – House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, who will step down from his leadership post in the next Congress, said Thursday that President-elect Obama appears “much better prepared” heading into his first term than President Clinton had been.
The Missouri Republican - who served as Majority Whip when Republicans controlled the chamber - joked with reporters that he was relieved to be relinquishing his leadership role. "I can tell you more problems about members of Congress that you ever wanted to hear," he said, adding "Ten years of asking people things they don't want to do is a long time." But Blunt also sounded nostalgic about leaving leadership. “I will miss it all. …It is fun to be in the middle of every fight every day," he said.
Blunt admitted he was impressed with President-elect Barack Obama's campaign "in terms of discipline, planning, and lack of mistakes." He added, "I think he's much better prepared for this in terms as a manager that President Clinton may have been."
Thursday afternoon, House GOP leader John Boehner – who has said he intends to keep his leadership post - said he had asked conservative Indiana Republican Mike Pence to run for the post of Republican Conference Chairman. Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas - who told his colleagues earlier this week that he was running for the Chairman position - is now taking himself out of the race, according to his spokesman.
Pence ran against Boehner for minority leader in 2006, but lost by a substantial margin.
Rep. Blunt told reporters Thursday that he had written a letter to himself in January 2007, after the Democrats took control of the House, in which he pledged to spend the next two years holding Democrats accountable and working to recapture the majority. If Republicans weren't successful, he wrote, his intention was to only serve one term as minority whip.
The letter remained sealed until Blunt asked his communications director to open it Thursday morning. "My instincts two years ago were right," Blunt said Thursday.
He praised his deputy, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, who is running to replace him: "He'll do a great job as the whip." Blunt said Cantor told him he wouldn't run for the post if Blunt decided to stay.
With changes now happening at the No. 2 and 3 House Republican leadership posts, Blunt didn't directly answer whether a change was needed at the top job, held by Rep John Boehner. But Blunt said he had a good relationship with Boehner – that Boehner and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell faced a tough environment going into the 2008 election, and going forward said "they will continue to good jobs."
Boehner released a statement after Blunt's announcement, saying, "Roy has been one of the most effective whips ever to serve our House Republican team. He has been a tremendous leader for our party, and we owe him credit and gratitude for countless victories we have achieved in the House during his tenure."
With more conservative House Republicans making the move to fill top leadership posts, Blunt advised the party it needed to communicate its message to a broader audience. "If you want to be in the majority you have to be focused on your principles, but you have to be explaining those principles in a way that appeals just more people that you appealed to before. And I hope we have a focus that's more that just making the base happy, and I believe we will."
Blunt said he plans to remain in the House and focus on a new role shaping energy policy at the Energy and Commerce committee, where he recently retook his slot on the committee. "I am a next-chapter guy, " he said.