Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) has been ordered to appear at an arraignment on Oct. 21 in an Austin courtroom, where he plans to plead not guilty to the charge that he conspired with two associates to funnel corporate donations to Republican candidates for the Texas legislature.
DeLay's lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, said yesterday DeLay will be allowed to fly on his own to Texas in response to a summons. "They are not going to come up and arrest him," DeGuerin said.
By appearing on a summons rather than an arrest warrant, DeLay may be allowed to avoid the standard booking procedure of being fingerprinted and photographed, although Travis County District Judge Bob Perkins could order a booking that day, according to a source familiar with the case who is permitted to speak only on condition of anonymity.
DeGuerin also said he had begun to consider whether to attempt to move a trial, if there is one, out of Austin -- a Democratic bastion in a Republican-leaning state -- to a venue in Texas where the former majority leader has greater popularity.
Emphasizing he had made no decision, DeGuerin said, "Not only is Tom DeLay controversial, he is radioactive. And he's not very popular in Austin. He changed the face of Texas politics with redistricting." DeGuerin said some Austin voters think DeLay diluted the city's political strength by helping to draw a new legislative map that carved Austin into three legislative districts.
"We're discussing it," DeGuerin said of the possibility of requesting a different trial location. "Everything is on the table -- except compromise."
Two days after he became the highest-ranking congressional leader indicted, DeLay persisted yesterday with a high-decibel -- and highly visible -- self-defense. He continued an extensive round of television and radio interviews with an appearance on the Christian Broadcasting Network, and he is scheduled to be a guest this weekend on Fox News Sunday, according to his spokesman, Kevin A. Madden.
Early in the afternoon, DeLay flew to Texas for a late-day rally with supporters in Houston.
Before leaving Washington, he met with Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.), the temporary majority leader, Rep. Roy Blunt (Mo.) and other GOP leaders to sort out the logistics of relinquishing the staff and power DeLay held as majority leader until the indictment forced him to step aside. According to Hastert's spokesman, Ronald D. Bonjean Jr., DeLay's aides will remain in their offices, and his floor staff will report, day to day, to Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.), although they ultimately will be responsible to Blunt.
Under an arrangement that has never been tried, Blunt has retained his position as majority whip, even as he has been promoted to majority leader, the second-in-command of the House. Despite suggestions from some GOP lawmakers -- including a few who harbor their own ambitions to run for leadership jobs -- that the arrangement is unwieldy, Blunt said yesterday he believed it could work smoothly.
Blunt said Dreier would take over some of Blunt's former work as a liaison to committee chairmen, monitoring their flow of bills and helping to resolve jurisdictional conflicts. In addition, Rep. Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.), the chief deputy whip, will enlarge his role in helping to address members' questions about bills and to corral GOP votes. "His job has always been to step in and fill in any of the gaps," Blunt said. "He and I both understand the gaps will be a little bigger."
Blunt said DeLay's departure from leadership would not alter the GOP agenda -- including legislation on energy and immigration, as well as finishing appropriations bills and finding ways to pay for federal aid after hurricanes Katrina and Rita -- or hinder the goal of finishing work by Nov. 18. "This isn't about who we are. It is about what we do," he said.
Asked about predictions from fellow Republicans that the new leadership arrangement would not work for more than a few months, Blunt said: "I am hopeful this temporary situation will be taken care of before January" and that DeLay will be cleared.
Still, he acknowledged, the House Republican rule that requiring a leader to step down while facing criminal charges "has never been implemented before."