Robert G. Kaiser
Washington Post Associate Editor
Tuesday, April 4, 2006 1:00 PM
Washington Post associate editor Robert G. Kaiser was online Tuesday, April 4, at 1 p.m. ET to answer questions and provide instant analysis following the announcement that Rep. Tom DeLay plans to resign from the House. The former majority leader was facing an increasingly difficult reelection battle. A former member of his staff. Tony C. Rudy , recently pleaded guilty to conspiracy and corruption charges.
The transcript follows.
Robert G. Kaiser: Good day to all. Last week when I came online to talk about the resignation of Andrew Card as White House chief of staff, a smart reader asked me if this less-than-earthshaking event merited a special on-line chat. I had to admit that it probably didn't.
Well, Tom DeLay's announced intention to resign certainly does. This is Very Big News by any standard. DeLay has been the dominant Republican in Congress really since 1999 when Rep. Bob Livingston of Louisiana gave up the job of Speaker of the House because of threats to expose extramarital transgressions in his personal life (which, happily, were never disclosed). He achieved a level of discipline in the Republican conference in the House that I don't expect to ever see again. "The Hammer" knew how to hammer, both allies and opponents. He had already given up his job as Majority Leader, so isn't literally as important today as he was a few months ago, but as a symbol of the House Republicans in the Bush era, he has continued to cast a long shadow. And I suspect he will continue to do so at least through the elections next November.
So, on to your questions.
Robert G. Kaiser: sorry about that, I clicked the wrong spot. To continue:
That Rudy plea suggests big trouble for DeLay to me. I have no hard info. I do have one source close to the Abramoff investigation who told me a fortnight ago that Tony Rudy was the one guy who could bring DeLay down. I can't evaluate my source's statement, but he's someone who could know a lot that I do not know.
That said, we have no hard evidence yet about how close to DeLay himself this investigation will get. But three of his most intimate associates have pleaded guilty to serious crimes. It does not look good for him.
Hartford, Conn.: Is there a Delay/Abramoff/Israel connection?
Robert G. Kaiser: what do you mean by connection? DeLay is a fiercely strong supporter of Israel. Abramoff is a supporter too. What are you trying to imply, I wonder?
Washington, D.C.: Thanks for the "instant analysis"! Although he denies it, how much of DeLay's decision was based on his pending legal troubles? Are you hearing anything on that front? Thanks for the chat!
Robert G. Kaiser: Good question. There was a really poignant paragraph in the Saturday story -- to which I hope we can give you a link here -- on the guilty plea of Tony Rudy, formerly deputy chief of staff to Delay. It said:
"Rudy's plea makes it clear that the federal investigation has far to go. The confession 'does not include all of the facts known to me concerning criminal activity in which I or others were engaged...'"
Does this refer to DeLay, elsewhere identified somewhat ominously as congressman #2 in Rudy's plea agreement? We don't know of course. But it is getting close to him.
And I have one source close to the Abramoff investigation who told me a fortnight ago that Rudy was the one guy who could bring DeLay down. Don't know how to evaluate this source's statement, but he knows a lot that I don't know.
washingtonpost.com: Ex-DeLay Aide Pleads Guilty in Lobby Case , ( Post, April 1, 2006 )
San Carlos, Calif.: The Republican hope is obviously that DeLay will be forgotten by the Fall election (or irrelevant to the results outside his home state). Does this seem likely to you? How badly does one Congressman's fall affect all the others?
Robert G. Kaiser: Very good question. Another questioner has asked how serious is the Republicans' trouble?
Of course we cannot see the future, but if you have a smart politician the scenario that now faces the Republicans, I think his or her response might be, "can I have another scenario?" This is just awful for the GOP: A president at 35-40% approval with an unpopular war that is going very badly; a burgeoning corruption scandal in the Republican-controlled House; a divisive immigration fight; a very dicey situation in Israel and the Middle East; a controversial Indian policy initiative on nuclear weapons that could easily blow up in Bush's face---the list of horrors goes on and on and on.
How can the Republicans counter all this? DeLay gives us a good clue in his fascinating farewell tape, which is on our site and highly recommended by me. They will attack the Democrats as gloomy pessimists who want to "cut and run" in the war on terror.
Is this a winning hand?
Baltimore, Md.: Hello Mr. Kaiser: I am trying to figure this one out. DeLay has already been indicted, so it seems that his decision will not cool the legal heat on him, therefore it seems odd that one as tenacious as he would throw in the towel so easily. Is this a matter of "the Hammer" knowing that the legal aspects of his case will be so damning when revealed that there is no point in fighting? Is DeLay being honest when he says he is doing this for the sake of the party? If so, does this represent a party-wide fear that the house could be lost in 2006? Thanks.
Robert G. Kaiser: I share your skepticism that "the good of the party" explains this entirely. But I have been around long enough to know that big decisions of this kind can rarely be explained with a single phrase or sentence. A lot is weighing on DeLay's mind at the moment. He IS in terrible legal jeopardy; it is not impossible to imagine an indictment accusing him of accepting bribes. The Texas case does hang over him. His and others' polls do show that he could have been defeated in November.
How did he decide this? I just don't know. I suspect part of it was the realization, since he was replaced as majority leader and completely displaced from any influential role in the House, that now matter what else happens, his new life was going to be a pale comparison of his old one. He would, I suspect, simply hate the idea of being a marginal player. And that's where he was headed.
So go, already: As a Republican, I'm glad to see DeLay resign. He and his ilk were not doing what they promised to do when they gained control of the House: provide fiscal responsibility and a return to strong ethics.
Now maybe that district will be represented by an honest conservative.
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for posting.
Arlington, Va.: I think the main strike against DeLay is the way he used various means to enrich his family and his aides. In his charities, these people have paid positions and, as such, look like the organization is being set up just to reward them. He may have been an effective political leader but he figured out a way to enrich himself while doing so.
Robert G. Kaiser: And thank you too
Delray Beach, Fla.: Any feedback in reference to DeLay moving to Va so another Republican can run? Is that legal under Texas election law?
And....can he move while under indictment?
Robert G. Kaiser: Can Texas election law prevent DeLay from moving to Virginia? I don't think so.
Newport News, Va.: Do you think DeLay will be seen as a martyr by the religious right or will try to nurture that perception among them?
Robert G. Kaiser: Yes and yes. DeLay has repeatedly gone to that well for political sustenance, and the organized "Christian right" has been willing to provide it again and again.
Native Texan (but now in D.C.): As a native Texan, I have been ashamed and embarrassed that Tom DeLay represented my home state, of which I am so proud normally. Hopefully his corrupt legacy will only leave a black eye, not a permanent scar as I'm afraid it has. He who thinks he is above the will of the people deserves to go down in flames. I hope he burns to a crisp.
And no, I am not a Democrat - I come from a long line of card-carrying Texas Republicans.
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for the post.
Florida Lakes Region, North Fla.: Although they're likely extremely gleeful at DeLay's departure (they won't have the bug-catcher to kick around anymore), I've heard other analysts say the Dems don't really want to take back the house/senate this year, tha they only want modest gains because somehow this boosts Democratic chances for Presidential victory in '08. Can you explain how that would work? Also: Thanks to you and your able colleagues for these extremely informative, compelling chats. I think it puts The Post head and shoulders above the competition!!! Keep up the good work.
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for the nice words.
I have talked to several Democratic members of Congress in recent weeks; none of them talked favorably about the idea of losing in November!
In my view, the outcome in November will not have much to do with Democrats. This is shaping up as a classic "referendum" election, like 1974 or 1994--an opportunity for voters to express their distaste for the ruling party. Dems weren't fabulous campaigners in 1974 (months after Nixon's resignation); nor were the Republicans, despite mythology to the contrary, so fabulous in the 1994 campaign, when they won the Congress. Exit polls and reporting both times showed that the country held the ruling party in a very low regard--just as it does right now.
That's why the Republicans are so scared.
washingtonpost.com: Who Needs New Ideas, Anyway , ( Post, April 2, 2006 )
Laurel, Md.: I read in the article today that Democrats were disappointed by DeLay's resignation because they were looking forward to making a major issue out of DeLay's legal problems in the upcoming election. I would think that the Democrats can still make much of DeLay's (and, indeed, the entire Republican party's) alleged illegal activities. That is, of course, if the Democrats actually find a voice to challenge the Republicans, which I don't think they've been very effective at for the past six years!
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for the comment.
Indianapolis, Ind.: If DeLay campaigns, as he suggests he will, for whomever the Republicans stand up, does it really matter if he isn't running. And what sort of influence will he continue to have?
Robert G. Kaiser: DeLay will help conservative Republicans by raising money for them among his faithful, and perhaps by encouraging some discouraged conservatives to participate next November. In our polarized politics now, "cultivating the base" is extremely important. And for a certain portion of the GOP base, The Hammer will always be a mobilizing influence, whatever else he is doing.
Cabin John, Md.: My understanding is that his motivation for moving to Virginia is to avoid state prosecution in his home state of Texas. It also has the added ancillary benefit of allowing the governor to install a "temporary" representative to run as an incumbent because, technically, DeLay is ineligible.
That and the fact that he is basically absconding with his $1.3 million campaign fund to use as a legal slush fund leads me to believe he may be the craftiest crook that has ever graced the halls of the Capitol.
Robert G. Kaiser: Please read R. Jeffrey Smith's good story in today's paper, currently on the site, findable here: Federal Probe Has Edged Closer to Texan Your info is wrong; this story is right.
New York, N.Y.: It's too bad DeLay's not man enough to try and fight this one to the end. For the amount of names he's called and the damage he's done to everyone who ever crossed him, he sure is taking the easy way out. It's almost as if he's "cutting and running". So much for this strong, resolute power broker from Texas. He's showing his true colors by quitting. I didn't think it was possible to have any less respect for him than I already did, but wonders never cease...
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for the comment. I wonder if others will agree with you? I particularly wonder if some of his strongest supporters will see it this way?
Dale City, Va.: What has changed politically for DeLay since he ran in the primary? Nothing that I can see other than the fact he won the primary. It sure looks more like it is because of the Rudy plea bargain than any great gift for the Republican party. Or maybe I am just getting even more cynical after constantly seeing no one take any responsibility in the power mad Republicans.
Robert G. Kaiser: I find you analysis quite persuasive. But we don't know what DeLay's own pollster has been telling him; that could have been a powerful factor.
Baltimore, Md.: Re DeLay "throwing in the towel so easily" as another poster put it: One of The Post pieces said that, by resigning, he gets to hold onto his campaign funds which can then be used for his legal defense. Supposedly, contributions to his defense fund have plummeted with the recent guilty pleas of former aides and aides. Additional indictments could well bankrupt him. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!)
Robert G. Kaiser: That's the story I just gave a link to above.
Goleta, Calif.: I hope this news will serve notice to those in power (both currently and to come): nothing lasts for ever, and what goes up must come down.
The overriding feeling I get from this news is that of satisfaction, not in Mr. DeLay's woes, but that our system works--no one, no matter how powerful or influential or rich--is beyond the law and its due process.
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for this. I heartily agree. Indeed, there is a healthy history of Americans reacting against politicians who over-reach, who go too far. Personally I have been expecting DeLay's demise for a couple of years, for precisely this reason. He, it struck me, was a deeply committed (and highly effective) partisan who genuinely believed that the ends justified the means--provided they were his ends. Americans like to believe in "fair play." DeLay did not. The result was, I think, quite predictable.
I'm pausing before posting this wondering if I sound too harsh. I don't mean this as a condemnation; Lord knows I have been around the track too many times to begin now to pass harsh judgments on public figures. I mean it as an analytic interpretation. Some personality types are ill suited to remaining at the center of public attention for a long time. DeLay is one such, I think.
Washington, D.C.: Today's Post story on DeLay's resignation mentions one avenue for filling his open seat is for Texas Gov. Perry to pick a replacement. Any idea on who he would pick and/or who DeLay would like to succeed him? Thanks.
Robert G. Kaiser: As I understand it, there could be a special election or an appointment. Not sure this is correct. I have no idea who might take the seat either way.
Gaithersburg, Md.: Let's talk reality here - do you buy DeLay's explanation that he's resigning because he's not up for an expensive, tough fight in November? As you've noted this is "The Hammer", someone who's known of the hard fights (and winning). If that was his major concern, he could easily enough withdraw in some way from the ballot and continue in his seat until the end of his current term.
Frankly, I think the Rudy plea really put the writing on the wall.
If you buy DeLay's explanation for resigning, I have a Congressional District in Texas to sell you.
Robert G. Kaiser: I guess you and I are in essentially the same camp. I'm just a little less sure than you. Thanks for the post.
Washington, D.C.: Why did you ignore the previous question about a connection between DeLay, Abramoff and the pro-Israeli lobby?
Robert G. Kaiser: I repeat, what is "a connection"? One of the most unpleasant forms of journalese, the language of journalism, is what I think of as the "linked to" formulation. "DeLay Linked To Abramoff, Israel," might be a headline. What would it tell us? Nothing.
Knoxville, Tenn.: DeLay's exit from politics entirely makes me suspicious. Is there a chance he will face additional charges in additional crimes very soon? Perhaps he was involved in corruption and bribery.
Robert G. Kaiser: As I said above, I think the answer could well be yes.
Philadelphia, Pa.: Any chance DeLay is stepping down because/ he fears more indictments or indictments of his wife and daughter?
Robert G. Kaiser: I know no basis for that suspicion, nor is it clear to me how the one could affect the other.
Dallas, Tex.: Mr Kaiser-in reply to the Texas election question, under Texas law there are only three ways DeLay's name can be removed from the November Ballot:
death, conviction of a felony, or a move outside his district.
Any of these events can precipitate the Governor to call a special election to replace Delay, in which case the winner would be on the November ballot. Or the governor could do nothing, and let the seat remain open until filled by the November election.
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks. That's essentially what R. Jeffrey Smith's story says, I think. It wasn't as clear as you are that the governor has a choice here.
Bethesda, Md.: So, yet another ruthless, ambitious, supposedly 'brilliant' politician overreaches-- and falls. Seems to happen a lot.
Robert G. Kaiser: See my comment above. I agree.
Pittsburgh, Pa: Hello Mr. Kaiser, the most intriguing aspect of all this corruption in the possible Adam Kidan connection to the Gus Boulis murder. Are you following the trial of the mob figures in Florida who are being tried for the hit on the Kidan/Abramoff partner in SunCruz? Am I nuts to think this may be a very big deal albeit in a guilt by association way?
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for this. You're right, it is fascinating, and we don't yet know where the trial may lead. Adam Kidan and Abramoff, both sentenced in the Florida case last month, have adamantly denied any connection to the murder.
Here's a link to our story on the sentencings last month.
washingtonpost.com: Abramoff Is Sentenced For Casino Boat Fraud , ( Post, March 30, 2006 )
Hartford, Conn.: Is it possible that the Abramoff probe could reach into the senate? And why do we see so many ex Congressmen and women wind up as highly paid lobbyist? Is it a payoff for favors given to corporations while a legislator or because they still get to share a swimming pool with their ex colleagues?
Robert G. Kaiser: It has: Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana finds himself in very hot water because of his ties to Abramoff, financial and political.
Bowie, Md.: Why is DeLay prolonging is resignation? He should resign effective immediately. Who do you think will be the next Republican to resign? The Abramoff scandal should bring down more government officials, possibly to include some Democrats.
Robert G. Kaiser: I think there must be some calculation he is making that we don't (or I don't) yet understand.
You are right; other shoes, perhaps quite a few other shoes are still to drop in the ongoing investigations of Congress. I think we can expect, quite soon, the indictment of Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio. It is unlikely to be the last.
Arlington, Va.: I haven't popped the champagne cork yet (or even bought the champagne), but this is the beginning of the end for the Republicans (at least in the House). And it doesn't matter that DeLay is gone. Too many Republican House members are financially connected to DeLay or one of his PACs. And DeLay's comment that his reelection bid will be "too nasty" is beyond belief, when he (and Newt) are the ones who dragged things into the gutter. And does DeLay know that Alexandria's Congressman is a Democrat?
Robert G. Kaiser: thanks for posting. I almost said venting.
Sims, N.C.: Why do people on the religious right blindly support their politicians no matter what they do. Please know that their are many Christians who expect more from their politicians. I sure wish the msm would stop letting people like Delay, Falwell, Dobson, and others use my saviors gospel of love, justice, and mercy for their on perverted political and personal gain.
Robert G. Kaiser: MSM means "mainstream media." I'm learning.
Thanks for the post.
Austin, Tex.: "Indian policy initiative on nuclear weapons that could easily blow up in Bush's face...."
Let's all hope not.
Robert G. Kaiser: Yes indeed.
Washington, D.C.: Is it normal for House members to inform the President of their decision to resign? It seems kind of weird to me. The President isn't the boss of the House...
Robert G. Kaiser: Hey, this isn't any old House Republican. This is the key House Republican of the Bush presidency, whose bare-knuckle legislative tactics were responsible for many of the key victories Bush has won on Capitol Hill. It may be worth keeping in mind, for example, the only those tactics won passage of the prescription drug benefit, among others.
Indianapolis, Ind.: this sounds like the Abramoff investigation is getting pretty serious but perhaps that's my perception because I don't live and work in the D.C. area. What's your impression of how serious this could get.
Robert G. Kaiser: very, very serious.
San Francisco, Calif.: I'm from that area of Southeast Texas (although it has been a decade since I lived there)- and, I know Nick Lampson. He's formidable. What's your (view from D.C.) best guess of his chances of winning?
Robert G. Kaiser: Lampson is the former House member running for the DeLay seat on the Democratic ticket.
I think it's premature to judge how he might do against a new Republican opponent. He enjoyed a reputation as a good pol in DC, I think.
Lincoln, Neb.: Do you think Delay exiting stage right is going to take attention away from the Abramoff story? The corruption plagued Republican party? It appears to me that a confluence of factors has brought forth this decision from DeLay.
Robert G. Kaiser: I see no chance of that.
Washington, D.C.: Although I can't wait to hear what Rudy has told prosecutors, I have to disagree that DeLay's resignation was solely based on the investigations. Without DeLay's antagonizing force on the November ballot, his district will almost certainly stay Republican. GOP leaders don't care so much about DeLay's personal problems, but they do want to keep control of the House.
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks. I don't disagree at all. As I said earlier, single explanations rarely get to the bottom of big decisions like this one.
Monroe, N.Y.: I've been fascinated watching the White House and Republican party stand together with fierce loyalty when one of their own is attacked... and then, standing together in fierce disloyalty, pretending they never knew someone who's just pled guilty to the things they were defending earlier.
Some of the most powerful and independent people in the US look like cowards behaving this way. Why do they do it?
Robert G. Kaiser: Why oh why? I knoweth not.
Belmont, Mass.: Can you comment on the effect the allegations that a family values charity was used for the personal enrichment of a DeLay associate in the name of religion who is, furthermore, his spiritual advisor on his support among his religious right base? Can we learn anything from how Reed is doing in Georgia? Surely the far right recognizes the commandment "Thou shalt not steal" pertains to their own leaders.
Robert G. Kaiser: If you haven't read this story that we are linking to below, Do So Immediately! It's great journalism, and fascinating too.
Indeed, if I may crow a bit, The Post's coverage of the DeLay and Abramoff scandals has been distinguished, I think. There's a special report page on the site that will allow you to read all of it. These stories have already won a lot of big prizes; if you read them I think you'll see why.
washingtonpost.com: Former DeLay Aide Enriched By Nonprofit , ( Post, March 26, 2006 )
Alexandria, Va.: Do most political experts believe the DeLay story will go away when he goes away? If I'm a Democrat running for office in 2006, then I'm going to "morph" my GOP opponent into Tom DeLay in my campaign ads. I think DeLay will still be used against GOPs in 2006 and perhaps the 2008 Presidential and Congressional elections. What are your thoughts??
Robert G. Kaiser: I think you are right. DeLay will soon be in the category known as "Gone But Not Forgotten."
Austin, Tex.: The current crop of Republicans aren't the first politicians to let power go to their heads, but the "God is on our side" thing does seem to have helped the process along in this case.
Is there any chance that the organized Christian right's influence on national politics may be starting to wane?
Robert G. Kaiser: I have no idea. I've been reading Kevin Phillips new book, American Theocracy, which is, among other things, an old Republican's attack on the religious takeover of his party, as he sees it. I have long thought, and written often here, that the Republican coalition is more fragile than at any time since Reagan's 1980 election. That doesn't mean the GOP is doomed, but the challenge of keeping its many diverse elements in the same tent does not get any easier.
That will be the last question for today. Thanks once again for all the good and smart questions and comments. This is a day, and an event, to remember. My own hunch is that our politics have turned a corner today.
And you may say, Big Deal! Because I am not going to say where we are now headed, for the simple, painful reason that I don't know.
Until next time...
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