House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) blasted the Clinton administration yesterday for having "debased" the presidency and "poisoned" the nation's political dialogue, as he called on conservatives to fight for traditional values while recognizing that only a Republican president can deliver on their demands.
"The administration that has held the White House for almost eight years now has moved through the cherished institutions of our nation like a threshing machine, leveling everything in its path," DeLay said in a speech before the Heritage Foundation. "We are ready for a new beginning."
DeLay, perhaps the leading conservative on Capitol Hill and a frequent critic of President Clinton, offered his comments as part of a "conservative State of the Union" aimed at rallying the GOP for a crucial election year. His basic message was that conservatives should not expect dramatic action from Congress this year, but their patience will be rewarded next year after Republicans capture the White House.
"A year from today, the dream conservatives have worked and prayed for will be upon us," DeLay said. "Our greatest objectives will only be realized with the active assistance of a president who not only agrees with our specific policies, but also shares our basic philosophy."
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart dismissed DeLay's attack during his regular briefing to reporters yesterday.
"I think there is a solid majority in the House of Representatives that don't think the way Congressman DeLay thinks, that think about getting things done; going back to their constituents, making a strong case next November for their own reelection," Lockhart said. "And you know, he has a lot to say, but we'll focus on those who want to work with us."
DeLay urged his audience to be pragmatic. "You can understand my frustration when some of our friends in the conservative movement allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good."
He said Congress over the past five years "has stood alone as the only national institution thoroughly committed to a conservative worldview. We have challenged the counterculture activists who run Hollywood, confronted the trial lawyers who dominate the courts and struck back against the corporate liberalism that has come to dominate so many American companies."
DeLay did not discuss the House's upcoming agenda in detail but said Republicans would push for elimination of the so-called marriage penalty and estate taxes. Lawmakers will again try to ban a set of procedures opponents describe as "partial birth abortion," he added, and will fight to keep 6-year-old Cuban Elian Gonzalez in the United States by granting him citizenship.
While DeLay has focused in the past on the internal operations of the House, marshaling the votes to pass the GOP agenda, yesterday's speech marked a major foray into the broader public policy realm. Speaking before C-SPAN cameras, DeLay touted his leadership political action committee's new Web site, which features a fund-raising pitch and political cartoons by Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.).
GOP pollster Jim McLaughlin called the speech "a smart move," arguing that party officials must appeal to Christian conservatives and other activists in an election year.
"Social and moral issues are extremely important to a winning Republican coalition," McLaughlin said, noting that the discussion of tax cuts is dominating the presidential debate. "DeLay's a good messenger on it because he's well liked among rank-and-file conservatives."