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Book: The Hammer

Lou Dubose and Jan Reid
Authors
Tuesday, October 19, 2004; 2:00 PM

In their new book, "The Hammer: Tom DeLay, God, Money, and the Rise of the Republican Congress," co-Authors Lou Dubose and Jan Reid delves into the background of Majority Leader Tom DeLay, how he came to lead the Republican controlled House, and his policies.

Dubose and Reid were online to discuss their book and Rep. DeLay on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2 p.m. ET.


The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Lou Dubose & Jan Reid: Lou and Jan are here. Thanks for joining us.

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Virginia: Why does DeLay seem to be such a polorizing figure?

Lou Dubose & Jan Reid: DeLay was prone to outrageous, attention-grabbing statements when he first came to Washington -- the EPA is the Gestapo, etc. -- but was learning the intricacies of the House and gaining enormous favor among GOP colleagues, especially by raising and dealing out enormous amounts of money. He is a hard-right ideologue and proud of it. And in power he's been absolutely ruthless in dealing Democrats and even moderate Republicans out of the legislative process.

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Austin, Tex.: Great book. What do you think will happen next in the DeLay saga?

Lou Dubose & Jan Reid: So many stories, so little space. Much to come on the majority leader and most of it bad. He faces possible indictment in Austin. Along with the Post, which turned up e-mails from him leaning on Enron lobbyists for corporate money, we have found a letter from a Oklahoma corporation conveying $25,000 in corporate funds to him. Raising and spending corporate money in elections is illegal in Texas. This is precisely what resulted in the indictment of three DeLay fundraising associates in Austin, where they were raising money for the PAC DeLay founded. There could be further problems for the leader. A huge blooming scandal involving DeLay associates, Jack Abramoff and Mike Scanlon, billing six Indian tribes, to this point $66 million, with more to come. The services they rendered for these fees are being called in question by Senate Indian Affairs, in an investigation led by Sen. John McCain. A federal grand jury in Washington, DC, is looking at the same billing, and following much of the money to shell businesses, pass through entities, and Republican political campaigns. There is a certain element of guilt by association involved here, but it's also established that the two lobbyists promised their clients access to the DeLay network. The leader might now hold the record in reprimands from the House Ethics Committee. Good sources in the Republican House Conference now say DeLay will not be speaker, but that they will defend him in his current position.

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Long Beach, Calif.: What historical figures remind you of Tom Delay? He appears to be less patrician than
Mark Hanna, and somewhat like LBJ with a little more fire and brimstone.

Lou Dubose & Jan Reid: Huey Long. LBJ, yes, in his mastery of the congressional practice, but more like Richard Nixon, in his congressional years, in ruthlessness and boldness of his positions.
JR

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Bethesda, Md.: Both of you are left leaning to say the least…. Can you say anything good about your subject? Do you not have a partisan axe to grind?

Lou Dubose & Jan Reid:
Something good, indeed. DeLay is dedicated to the issue of foster child care and has worked very hard on it. And he has been very good at party building. Scandal, however, transcends political ideology. And the Majority Leader is mired in it. Back-to-back admonishments from an Ethics Committee that rarely acts suggests there's something wrong. LD

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New York, N.Y.: What made you two decide to write this book? Did you interview DeLay himself?

Lou Dubose & Jan Reid: We had collaborated on a book, with Carl M. Cannon, on Karl Rove. Afterward, though we live just a couple of blocks from each other, we proposed independently in followups with our editors a book Tom DeLay. The editor said, go to it, as long as you work together. We repeatedly requested interviews and were ignored. We regret we didn't get to talk to him. It was his call.

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Herndon, Va.: What can you tell us about DeLay's relationship with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is now in trouble for his dealings with Indian tribes?

Lou Dubose & Jan Reid:
Jack Abramoff was a member of DeLay's informal "kitchen cabinet," a major fundraiser, and a friend who shared DeLay's ideology. DeLay introduced Abramoff in Saipan as his close friend. In a speech to College Republicans said Tom DeLay is who we all want to be when we grow up. The association goes back many years and will likely end badly.

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Wooster, Ohio: Why have the moderates in the House Caucus repeatedly bowed to DeLay (I'm thinking of the Mark Kirks and Ralph Regulas of the world). These guys run moderate to get elected, and then support and very right-wing figure. If they banded together, and occasionally voted with the Dems, could DeLay still deal with them so cavalierly?

Lou Dubose & Jan Reid: Because they fear him and are hooked on his contributions to their campaign. He is not above threatening to "primary them" in the next election if they fail to stay in line. American Enterprise Institute scholar Norm Ornstein has a technical term he uses to describe them: wusses. They had a block of 25-30 votes and could have excercised real power in the party and in Congress. They were cowed by DeLay. Rep. Regula's threat to cut earmarks for Democrats not voting the way DeLay wanted them to was Regula's audition for the chair of Appropriations. Unable to beat DeLay, they have been beaten and have joined him.

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Alexandria, Va.: What is Delay's congressional district like?
Thanks

Lou Dubose & Jan Reid: Ultimate suburbs, often of "white flight" variety. Bedrock of Christian right. Many residents moved to Texas looking for jobs in Houston. Sugar Land is the world as they and Mr. DeLay wish it to be. In the redistricting fight in the Texas legislature he personally tweaked the lines of his district to add to his electoral invincibility.

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New York, N.Y.: Do you think it is true that since 2002 Republican domination in Congress has meant procedural unfairness and fewer bipartisan initiatives? I have heard from longstanding Democratic legislative assistants that working on the Hill these couple years has been nothing but frustrating, in a more sinister way than just being in the minority -- which they have experienced before. They say that this time, they are shut out of the agenda and information like never before.

Lou Dubose & Jan Reid: What DeLay (following Newt Gingrich) has acheived in the House is unprecedented. Not only are Democratic members shut out of the making of policy. As you indicate, so are staffers, in particular staffs of committees which for decades have used bipartisan collaboration to write legislation. There is a method to this madness. Once the minority party is made irrelevant to the process, they are irrelevant to funders, voters, and lobbyists. All by design. DeLay is now talking and writing of a permanent Republican majority.

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McLean, Va.: Could you talk about how it was Representative Frank Wolf who influenced Tom Delay's religious rebirth and the ensuing political alliance they formed?

Thanks

Lou Dubose & Jan Reid: When Rep. DeLay came to Congress in 1985, he was, he claimed, knocking down a dozen martinis a night. He was stressed out and consumed with guilt for neglecting his wife and daughter. Rep. Wolf gave him a videotape of a sermon by Rev. James Dobson, "Where's Daddy?" DeLay, whose grandparents had helped found a Baptist church in a Texas oiltown, was born again in the fundamentalist way, watching a TV set. His religious fervor is doubtless sincere; aspects of it, such as his belief that Revelations is a sound basis for U.S. policy in the Middle East, shock even some Texas Baptists. He became a much more effective politician because of his faith. His rebirth also came about at the time that evangelical Christianity was becoming a mighty political force here. Christian conservatives know that he is truly one of them.

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Long Island, N.Y.: Is Delay in any risk of losing his seat?

If he wins, is he too damaged to be an effective Majority Leader and if so, who would the GOP can turn to to replace him?

Lou Dubose & Jan Reid: Good question. Tom DeLay earned his unprecedented power in the House by building a whip organization like none ever before seen. His sixty-six deputy whips kept order, counted votes, and moved members toward the right votes, while he dispensed money for campaigns, served meals, and arranged green fees and hotel reservations for Republican House members. DeLay also has invested more money in electing Republican members than any other current member of the House. That had not been replicated by current whip Roy Blunt, who in fact was DeLay's protegee. (As was Speaker Denny Hastert.) DeLay, in fact, considers Blunt a little lazy and not forceful enough, according to House sources. DeLay's collapse would result in a scramble for power. That scramble may have quietly begun already, as Mississippi Rep. Zack Whamp recently said he doesn't know how badly the current scandals will hurt DeLay -- and that he might consider a run at leadership. Even conservative columnist David Brooks pronounced, just last week, that DeLay's dreams of being Speaker are finished.

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Lyme, Conn.: Threatening to force a member of one's one caucus into a primary fight is one of the most dangerous threats one can make: it wastes resources dividing your own party and it definitely creates tension within your own caucus, especially if the person threatening can not defeat the threatened in a primary. I know FDR sought primary opponents against Democrats who didn't vote with him. Are there many other historical precedents for this?

Lou Dubose & Jan Reid:
We're certain LBJ did it. And as Texans, we're ashamed to admit that we can't point to an LBJ example. Yet LBJ and FDR were two presidents fighting with Congress (and in FDR's case the Supreme Court). What is remarkable about DeLay is that a member of the House leadership threatens to "unelect" members of his own conference. Bear in mind that he contributed at least $50,000 to the Club for Growth, which funds primary campaigns of conservatives running against moderate Republicans. Reckless -- when it's not effective.

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San Antonio, Tex.: Thank you, Lou, for the work that you did with Molly Ivins on the books about George W. Bush--"Shrub," and "Bushwhacked."

My question: I'm represented here in District 125 in Texas by the relatively young Democrat and twin Joaquin Castro. Castro was one of those Texas legislators who fled to Ardmore, Okla., when Gov. Rick Perry tried to force a House vote on redistricting Texas. What I don't understand is how Tom Delay could call out the Department of Homeland Security to determine the whereabouts of this group of errant members of our state Congress? How easy or difficult was it for DeLay to use the powers of his office to work with Tom Ridge's group to track down elected Texas officials?

Lou Dubose & Jan Reid: The entire leadership -- the governor, lieutenant governor, the speaker -- and state troopers in Texas performed for DeLay like dancing bears. Federal authorities, however, very quickly became nervous about what was being demanded of them. Regarding the demand from DeLay's office that the FBI be called into fray, an internal Justice Department memo said that DeLay's tirade was, in a word, "wacko." The FAA, directed to track down the plane of a Democratic rep flying to Oklahoma, was responding to pressure from a congressional leader who exercises great influence over appropriations that keep the agency funded. If you are suggesting it was wrong, the House Ethics Committee agrees with you.

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Washington, D.C.: Just a correction... Rep. Zach Wamp is from Tennessee.

Lou Dubose & Jan Reid: Sorry about the error on Cong. Wamp. (two actually)

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Lou Dubose & Jan Reid: Signing off. We much enjoyed it and thank you for your time, interest, and questions.

LD
JR

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