DeLay Leads Charge Against Clinton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 1, 1998; Page A31
Republicans may have tiptoed around the Clinton scandal for most of this year's election cycle, but for Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), the president's misdeeds have been a campaign staple from day one.
"For me, it's already been established -- anybody who lies to a grand jury ought to be impeached," DeLay told his radio listeners. "They don't want to deal with it" yet, he continued. "But the American people have to see what this president is."
And DeLay will tell them. It is Wednesday afternoon in Edgewater, N.J., where the congressman known as "the Hammer" is on the phone with Blanquita Cullum during the Washington-based conservative's syndicated talk show.
Cullum introduces DeLay as "my favorite guy in the House." And later in the day, in another telephone interview, San Francisco radio host Michael Savage will call him the "de facto congressman" for conservatives in a Bay Area awash with lefty politicians.
Until last week, when the GOP unleashed a 30-district barrage of television advertising focusing on Clinton's moral shortcomings, DeLay was the only national Republican leader who spoke openly and frequently about the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal and the possibility of Clinton's resignation or impeachment.
And it is in good part because of his refusal to countenance censure or any other punishment short of impeachment that the GOP finds itself in what appears today as an all-or-nothing gamble that Congress and the American public will somehow find the appetite to remove a president whose approval ratings are the highest of his presidency.
But the politics do not concern DeLay. Instead, he says, he is guided by the Constitution, a pocket-size copy of which he carries with him at all times, and the Constitution says how presidential wrongdoing should be handled. "This is the way I see it," DeLay said in an interview between talk shows. "This is about the rule of law -- the Constitution. You either vote to impeach him and send it to the Senate, or you don't. There is no in-between."
On the radio, he tells Cullum that while "I think it remains to be seen what happens in the Senate to remove him from office . . . I have no doubt in my mind that the House will vote to impeach him."
In this context, he added in the interview, "any person or party who tries to play politics with this" deserves condemnation. Clinton "should have his day in court," before DeLay decides whether to vote to impeach, but he is telling anyone who asks -- national television shows, talk radio or a single reporter -- exactly where his thinking is at the moment.
"This president has been able to manipulate and dupe the American people into thinking he is one thing, when he is not," DeLay said. "You can't candy coat the truth. He has a pattern of conduct of lying, covering up, stonewalling and destroying his enemies, and he's been able to get by with it for many years. He's shameless."
It is no secret that this former pest exterminator from the Houston suburbs is a very tough customer, whether he is muscling his fractious GOP colleagues into line for a difficult vote or accusing the Clinton White House of trying to smear Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee.
And he is a hard worker. DeLay, 51, won the whip's job in 1994 after tireless fund-raising for many of the 73 freshmen who brought the GOP to power. When it came time to vote, the new majority chose him to be the party's chief vote-counter over a longtime ally of Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).
And he will take risks. In 1997, DeLay gave his approval to some of his young conservative friends when they tried to oust Gingrich for abandoning conservative principles. When the "coup" failed, DeLay owned up to his role -- and managed to hold on to his job.
Now he is the kindred spirit of the hardest of the hard-liners in the Republican base. Last week, with only token opposition at home, he stumped for colleagues in 15 congressional districts in four days and did about 20 radio broadcasts to stations nationwide.
Often he defended Gingrich. Cullum asked about possible leadership changes, since some members "have not held the ground as strong as you." And "Walt," calling in on Savage's show, suggested that Republicans have been "losing" since 1994, and "I want to know why: Is it Newt? I think it is."
DeLay silenced Walt by listing a string of GOP accomplishments, and told Cullum, "I don't anticipate" any shifts in the House hierarchy. He also warned Savage "you can't play games" with the House's ongoing investigation of technology transfer to China, after Savage suggested that the campaign ambience "could be turned around" if the House released some "hard evidence . . . between now and Tuesday."
But most of the time, DeLay was far from conciliatory. He is one of the Republicans that Democrats most love to hate, and in his talk shows, he poured gasoline on the fire, repeatedly accusing the president of "lying" about issues ranging from the Lewinsky scandal to defense readiness.
"Lies," "lying" and "liar" are traditional no-no words in an institution where passions seldom need extra goading, and DeLay acknowledged later that "sometimes I am a little blunt. I regret that I have to talk in these terms . . . but I have personally been lied to by this president."
He told Cullum that the case for impeachment needed to be "strong enough to attract some Democrats," but said "we have plenty" of evidence, thus confirming the Democrats' worst fears about turning the impeachment inquiry into an eternal "fishing expedition."
And after Savage told DeLay about the success he was having gathering signatures for an impeachment petition, DeLay invited him to Washington so he could "hand them to the Speaker. . . . We'll put on the dog for you."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company