Back in January, House Republican leaders backed off a rule change that would have allowed senior officials in the chamber--say, maybe the House majority leader--to hold onto their posts even if indicted.
Boy, that looks huge right now.
The leadership caved because of rank-and-file complaints that the party would send a lousy message by protecting one of its leaders who was charged with a crime. And with Tom DeLay's indictment yesterday, it's clear why they were so worried. DeLay stepped aside within minutes.
We have, at the moment, a remarkable situation: The Senate majority leader under investigation because of a questionable stock sale, and the House majority leader is under indictment. Before I finish typing this paragraph, I'm sure Democrats will be declaiming and decrying the lack of ethics in the Republican Party.
And they are sure to add that Republican lobbyist (and close DeLay pal) Jack Abramoff is under indictment in one case and under investigation in others, while the top White House procurement official, David Safavian, was accused last week of lying and obstruction in the Abramoff probe. A special prosecutor is still sniffing around the Valerie Plame leak, and the FDA commissioner quit weeks into his tenure for failing to report holdings on his financial disclosure form, says the NYT | http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/28/politics/28fda.html?pagewanted=all.
Many Democrats are particularly happy because the Hammer is a hard-charging partisan who they believe engineered some unfair redistricting in Texas, and had already survived three admonishments by the House ethics committee on other matters.
But before the noise level gets deafening, some caveats.
DeLay is accused of a complicated campaign finance violation that may or may not be easy to prove (he calls it a "sham"). A conspiracy to divert corporate funds into political campaigns will require prosecutors to demonstrate that DeLay knew of the transactions and knew they violated the law. (The same goes for the Bill Frist-as-Martha Stewart scenario.)
DeLay has long argued that the Travis County DA, a Democrat named Ronnie Earle, is after him for political reasons, and yesterday slammed him in a video release as "an unabashed partisan zealot." This will become one of the GOP talking points, and the GOPers will note that Earle's earlier case against Kay Bailey Hutchison fizzled (though he's also prosecuted a passel of Democrats).
Some Repubs are reacting by criticizing the indictment--exactly the sort of thing they scoffed at when Clinton and his allies were ripping Ken Starr's tactics. Sean Hannity (with Colmes banished for the segment) told his first guest he couldn't figure out what the indictment was about. The guest? Tom DeLay, who called the case "ridiculous." Interestingly, DeLay complained about the "politics of personal destruction," a phrase popularized by Bill Clinton, whose ouster the Texan crusaded for ("Anybody who lies to a grand jury ought to be impeached.")
Even if DeLay is acquitted, though, the case could easily drag on for a year or more. So it would be a long time before DeLay could reclaim his post--if indeed he can win reelection next year with this legal cloud hanging over him. On the other hand, it gets him out of the congressional spotlight as a target for the Dems.
The reaction and analysis are built around a single theme--bad news for the GOP and bad news for Bush:
"This is not what the Republicans envisioned 11 months ago, when they were returned to office as a powerful one-party government with a big agenda and - it seemed - little to fear from the opposition," says the New York Times | http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/29/national/29assess.html.
"The indictment of Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the House majority leader, on Wednesday was the latest in a series of scandals and setbacks that have buffeted Republican leaders in Congress and the Bush administration, and transformed what might have been a victory lap into a hard political scramble. Republicans are still managing to score some victories - notably, Judge John G. Roberts Jr.'s expected confirmation as chief justice of the United States on Thursday - but their governing majority is showing signs of strain.
"In the House, Mr. DeLay's indictment removes, even if temporarily, a powerful leader who managed to eke out, again and again, a narrow majority on some difficult votes."
Los Angeles Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-assess29sep29,0,3017354.story?coll=la-home-headlines: "The indictment of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) undercuts one of President Bush's most powerful allies at a time when the GOP is already battered by other ethics controversies, plummeting public confidence and intraparty divisions over budget policy.
"The departure from the leadership ranks of DeLay, a commanding figure in the House's machinery for enforcing party discipline, could hamper Republicans' ability to advance political and legislative agendas."
Boston Globe | http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2005/09/29/loss_of_leader_taint_of_scandal_is_a_double_hit_for_bush/: "President Bush was never personally close to Tom DeLay, but he always knew that he needed him badly.
"When DeLay was under siege over ethics complaints in April, Bush showed his support by squiring his fellow Texan around an airport tarmac before boarding Air Force One together, like two pals headed for a golf weekend.
Now, with the administration struggling to overcome complaints about its response to Hurricane Katrina and the declining support for the war in Iraq, Bush needs DeLay more than ever. But DeLay, waylaid by yesterday's indictment, won't be there."
Philadelphia Inquirer | http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/nation/12767461.htm: "Conservative activists are generally quick to defend their icons, and yesterday they promptly declared that the indictment of Tom DeLay, the most powerful Republican on Capitol Hill, was nothing more than a partisan smear.
"But they also seem to be in a melancholy mood, fearing that corruption allegations may ultimately sour the voters on GOP rule and damage the conservative cause."
The Wall Street Journal: "The move comes at a time when the party is being buffeted by events that have strained its leadership.
"Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is distracted by an insider-trading investigation into the June sale of his stock in HCA Inc., the hospital chain founded by his family. President Bush has been battered by Iraq and his administration's response to Hurricane Katrina. Grass-roots conservatives are unhappy about the growth in federal spending...
"The disabling of Mr. DeLay means Republicans and the White House have lost, at least for now, the daily leadership of a man who has been aggressive in moving the conservative agenda, from tax cuts to free-trade pacts and regulatory overhauls, as well as an array of social issues that have led him into fights with the federal courts."
The Washington Post | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/28/AR2005092802388.html: "Bad news often comes in bunches, but for a Republican Party that not long ago looked ahead to an unfettered period of growth and expansion, yesterday's indictment of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) represented one of the most significant blows the party has suffered in a year replete with problems. . . .
"With muscle and determination, DeLay ruled the inside game, and his indictment is therefore all the more significant -- a powerful symbol that the Democrats will attempt to exploit as an example of the GOP's abuse of power."
Andrew Sullivan | http://www.andrewsullivan.com doesn't like the stink:
"I guess the law is designed to prevent corporate buying of electoral candidates, so you can see why someone like DeLay would want to get around it. Of course, I'm reserving judgment on the ultimate verdict, and DeLay deserves the benefit of being regarded as innocent before being found guilty. But I will say this: there is a clear stench of corruption coming from the Republican power-structure in Washington. It's been there for a while now.
"The Abramoff case illustrates it perfectly. With their incoherent big-spending policies already exposing them as conservative frauds, and with each day finding another ethical problem with the GOP leadership, the conditions are ripe for a Democratic comeback in 2006. The only question is whether the Democrats are still too pathetic to take advantage of this."
Salon's Michael Scherer | http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2005/09/29/delay/index.html says DeLay "controlled the votes like a modern-day Boss Tweed. He called himself 'the Hammer.' His domain included a vast network of former aides and foot soldiers he installed in key positions at law firms and trade groups, a network that came to be called the 'K Street Project.' He gathered tithes in the form of campaign cash, hard and soft, and spread it out among the loyal. He legislated for favored donors. He punished those who disobeyed, and bought off those who could be paid...
"For a while, the whole operation seemed unstoppable. DeLay, Abramoff, Norquist, Reed and Rove vanquished their Democratic opponents, winning election after election. The loyalty that ensued allowed for a historic cohesion in Congress. Tax breaks passed like clockwork, as did subsidies for favored industries and cuts to long-standing Democratic initiatives. The Democratic Party, which had ruled Capitol Hill for half a century, imploded in confusion. But the machine may now be coming to an end."
Slate's John Dickerson | http://slate.msn.com/id/2126987/nav/tap1/ says the Dems should think twice before celebrating: "Democrats would have to be nuts to root for DeLay's scalp, something many of them admit in private. He's the best villain they'll ever have. DeLay's got troubles hanging from him like charm bracelets. Not only does he have the Texas mess, but he's been knocked three times by the House ethics committee for misusing his post, and he's been closely linked to indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. At the level of personality, he positively oozes meanness, making him a perfect foil for Democrats. His poll numbers have been tanking. And now he's under indictment. DeLay makes an even more potent symbol bookended by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who is having his own ethical inquiries into his stock sales.
"The one hope for Democrats is that DeLay is unlikely go quietly into the steam room for a sulk. It's not in his nature. After his last round of troubles in the spring, he came out swinging."
Kevin Drum | http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2005_09/007217.php: "All we need now is a Plame indictment and we'd have the trifecta. . . . I've long been of the opinion that although Democrats are obviously in trouble these days, it's still the case that they're losing elections by only a few points -- and even a moderate change in the political climate could turn that around. Well, this is it. If Democrats still can't win in 2006, then we've got serious problems."
John Hinderaker | http://powerlineblog.com/archives/011810.php:
"Earle is a notorious Democratic Party hack...The Bush administration should take a lesson from DeLay's aggressive self-defense.
"You can read the indictment here | http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/0928051delay1.html. It is pathetic. The only time it mentions DeLay's name is when it alleges that he agreed to toll the statute of limitations! The indictment contains no suggestion of what he supposedly did that was illegal."
The conservative Ankle-Biting Pundits | http://www.anklebitingpundits.com/index.php?name=News&file=article&sid=2382 is bummed: "Look folks, there's not good way to try an spin this. Tom DeLay, as expected, has been indicted for campaign finance violations. There's an old saying that "a ham sandwich can be indicted", and by no means is it evidence of guilt. However, in politics, perception is reality, and even if DeLay is cleared eventually the media and the Democrats are going to have a field day. And let's not forget the DA who indicted him is a political hack who pulled a similar stunt on Kay Bailey Hutchinson, which was exposed as a partisan witch hunt. Of course, if DeLay did break the law he should pay the price. But politically, this is trouble for the GOP."
Jonah Goldberg | http://nationalreview.com/goldberg/goldberg200509280812.asp chides the press for hurricane recklessness, and includes a mea culpa:
"In the last month or so, we've heard a lot of self-congratulation from the press about what a great job they've been doing. At the high water mark of their rain-soaked Katrina coverage, they started to sound like Stuart Smalley telling the mirror, 'I'm good enough, I'm smart enough and, doggone it, people like me.' Even the normally hilarious and cynical Jon Stewart of The Daily Show broke character to congratulate the press for its excellent work.
"We now know, thanks to valuable post-mortems by the Los Angeles Times and the New Orleans Times-Picayune, that a great deal of the 'great reporting' was in fact great rumor mongering. The stories of rape and murder in the Superdome were all unfounded. Six people died in there, tragically. But nobody was murdered.
"All of the major newspapers contributed to the hysterical environment, passing on one unconfirmed rumor after another. And, to be fair, almost everyone else in one way or another contributed to the climate as well. The blogosphere bought the hyperventilation hook, line, and sinker. The low point was almost certainly when Randall Robinson ominously disclosed on the Huffington Post that African-Americans in New Orleans had resorted to eating the flesh of corpses to stay alive. This was just days into the flood (it took the stranded Donner party weeks to resort to eating the dead). Yet this supposedly fact-checked blog found it credible that African Americans would eat the bloated carcasses floating in New Orleans' floodwaters almost the second they ran out of groceries.
"What accounts for this journalistic fiasco? Social scientists might call this an 'overpredicted' event, meaning that there are too many causes to single out just one. Clearly, the breakdown in communications is a major factor. Word of mouth is never reliable. Word of mouth during a chaotic, horrifying disaster is worse than useless. Journalists stuck in isolated areas felt they had no choice but to buy the scuttlebutt coming out of the Superdome. And pundits, like yours truly, simply bought what they were selling -- to our discredit."
By the way, Salon's Michael Scherer says he initially thought the House hearing on FEMA was a whitewash, as I reported, but concluded that it turned into a substantive session.
I took a swipe at Cindy Sheehan | http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cindy-sheehan/why-i-was-smiling-and-hur_b_7970.html yesterday for mugging for the cameras during her arrest. Here's what she has to say:
"I had a huge grin on my face when I was getting arrested yesterday. I have received a lot of flak for smiling. Apparently I am not supposed to smile, but I had some really good reasons for doing so.
"First of all, I was having fun. I was with a group of good-humored, cheerful, happy people. We were singing old protest songs and old Sunday school songs and clapping. I felt I had to be cheerful to set the tone. We didn't want any trouble or to do anything non-peaceful. Secondly, when I got arrested and the officers lifted me out I was afraid that America would see my underwear and that tickled me...
"I don't think I can be challenged for my analysis of the war and for what I say because it is all the truth and comes from my heart, so I have to be attacked for smiling. I won't apologize for smiling, though, we are making a difference and that is definitely something to smile about!"