Every day last week I received calls from reporters asking if I think House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) will survive the current crusade against him. My answer is always the same. Of course he will survive because you people have not laid a glove on him. They hate that answer. I never get quoted. I never am mentioned because I refuse to give the reporters the answer they seek. If I said conservatives have lost confidence in him my picture, in color, would be on the front page, or I would get top billing in a network newscast.
That is what happened to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA). The media has hated Gingrich with a passion for years. Yet, because Gingrich was willing to speak about House Majority Leader Tom DeLay he was given top billing on CBS Evening News with Bob Schieffer. There has been bad blood between Gingrich and DeLay ever since then-House Majority Whip DeLay participated in an aborted coup to remove Gingrich from his position as Speaker of the House in 1997. If that background had been mentioned Gingrich’s comments would have been perceived as payback for DeLay’s effort to topple Gingrich.
While I receive calls about DeLay’s standing in the conservative movement Majority Whip Representative Roy Blunt (R-MO), gets similar calls about DeLay’s standing in the Republican Caucus. At this point the liberal Republican, Representative Chris Shays, of Connecticut, who nearly was defeated in the last election, is the only Member of the House of Representatives to call for DeLay’s resignation. No doubt this helps Shays in his Congressional District, where so-called civil-unions legislation recently was enacted by the Connecticut Legislature and will be signed into law by Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell. DeLay, like any conservative, is disliked in Connecticut. Shays has played good politics for his constituents. No one else agrees that DeLay should resign. Yet the question is asked over and again.
Thus far nothing the anemic media “exposes” will cause the House Ethics Committee to issue any sort of citation. The problem for DeLay is that he cannot get cleared by the Committee because the Democratic Committee Members refuse to participate in the proceedings. Unlike other Republican-controlled House Committees, the Ethics Committee is comprised of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats. (Republicans control the U.S. House of Representatives by 232 to 202, with one so-called Independent, a Socialist who caucuses with the Democrats.) In order to act, a House Member from the party whose Member is questioned must “cross the aisle” to discuss the matter or the Committee remains deadlocked.
In the last Congress the Chairman of the Ethics Committee, Representative Joel Hefley (R-CO), joined the Democrats to warn DeLay that he was close to violating the House Ethics Rules. The Committee did not charge DeLay with a violation, it only warned him.
All Republican Committee Chairmen are term-limited by rules adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives in 1995. Hefley’s term was up and he had to be replaced. But he objected by saying he was being replaced because he had the courage to join the Democrats who opposed DeLay.
Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL), who does not have a partisan bone in his body, told Hefley that he was going to follow the rules and replace him. Democrats saw this as a great opportunity to protest and have refused to meet; thus the Committee cannot function. That means DeLay cannot get a ruling from the Ethics Committee affirming what it told DeLay earlier, namely, that his action was permissible under the House Rules.
Some Republicans have suggested that the Ethics Committee does not want to meet because it would need to consider the case of Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA) who was convicted by a federal court. McDermott received a tape of an intercepted cellular phone call between House Speaker Gingrich and the House Republican Leadership. McDermott broke the law when he released the tape, eventually providing it to the news media. The House Rules might require him to lose his seat. While no Democrat likely would join Republicans to act against McDermott they would look foolish filing charges against DeLay while protecting one of their own who is a convicted criminal.
Representative Mike Pence (R-IN), Chairman of the Republican Study Committee, which advances the conservative agenda, said last week that support for DeLay among conservatives ranges from intense to passionate. “If you hear that support for DeLay is waning among House conservatives it is just plain a lie,” Pence said.
Representative Steve King (R-IA) has gone further. He told a gathering of conservatives last week that DeLay will not win this fight by being on the defensive. Representative King called on conservatives to take the offensive and, said he would be willing to be the point man for the offensive. Representative King, now in his second term, said DeLay has done nothing unlawful or unethical but there are some liberals who have done both and that conservatives should make an all-out effort to drive that point home. “Let me make my point clear. When you are on defense, then when the other team makes a single score, they might win. But when you have a good defense but are on offense it causes the other team to have to deal with what you are hammering home to them,” King said.
That Steve King would step forth to assist DeLay is an indication of how deep the feeling is about the Majority Leader. King never has been close to DeLay. He is not considered one of his agents in the House. In fact, King always has been regarded as a good guy who pushes issues such as the flat tax. He never has been controversial. In Iowa King is not seen as a political figure drawn to controversy. That King has volunteered to go to the mat for DeLay indicates that Members who are not part of the leadership view the attack on DeLay as an attack upon them and upon the GOP agenda.
“Make no mistake about it. If DeLay goes down, our agenda goes with him,” Pence said. Unless there is real substance to charges unknown to us the feeding frenzy among the Washington press corps might not work. What effect this will have in DeLay’s own Congressional District is not clear. My guess is if his constituents think the media and the special interest groups are after DeLay they will support him because he has been effective. It is a case DeLay personally must make back home, even though our actions here in Washington, D.C. should help him.