Mr. Speaker, the honorable gentleman from the 22nd District of Texas needs to be shown some love.
It's noon on the House floor Thursday, Rep. Tom DeLay's first day since returning to the backbenches. The chamber is voting on H. Res. 388, one of those anti-Castro resolutions that always pass. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the new majority leader, is at the floor leader's table. David Dreier (R-Calif.), the Rules Committee chairman, is in the well. Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) is preparing for the next debate.
With two minutes left in the vote, DeLay enters almost unnoticed through a side door and registers his vote from the last row. Some colleagues spy DeLay along a railing in the back corner and, over the next few minutes, come by with a handshake, an arm on the shoulder, a hand on the arm or an understanding shake of the head. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) slaps his old foe on the back. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), one of those hoping to move up after DeLay's fall, stops by for a word.
Then, for a painful moment, Tom DeLay is all alone on the floor with nobody to talk to.
Wednesday morning, DeLay was the most feared legislative leader Congress had seen in decades. Wednesday afternoon, he was being treated like just one of 400 backbenchers. Asked for a presidential defense of DeLay, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: "The president's view is that we need to let the legal process work."
Before the "Mr. DeLay" sign could be removed from the door of the majority leader's office, most of his colleagues were either hiding from television cameras or scheming about their move up the leadership. "He will fight this, and we give him our utmost support, but the conference has to go on" was the best Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) could muster.
The American Spectator, a conservative publication that rarely if ever had a cross word for DeLay, ran an online article cruelly suggesting that DeLay has "worn out his welcome" and arguing: "Whether or not he's actually dirty, Republicans should let him hang out to dry."
If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. Or, in DeLay's case, call Pat Robertson.
Before returning to Houston yesterday, DeLay appeared on the preacher's 700 Club, where he got some much-needed support.
"This a shocking thing this man is doing to you!" Robertson told DeLay, who readily agreed, saying, "It's all politics."
"They say a clever prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich if he gets the right grand jury," Robertson continued. "Was this sort of a setup?"
"This is a ham sandwich with no ham," DeLay said. Laughter flowed from the audience.
Hearing DeLay's description of Texas prosecutor Ronnie Earle, Robertson asked: "Can't they bring charges against him for prosecutorial misconduct? This does seem to be egregious."
It was time for Robertson to wrap up the interview. "You're a hero to the conservatives in this country, and a lot of people are with you," he said.
DeLay had one more thing to say. "Can I plug a book?" he asked Robertson. "Jerry Bridges wrote a book called 'Trusting God' that takes you through this kind of adversity and teaches you so many things, and I just want to thank Jerry Bridges for that book."
Robertson is no stranger to the strains of public life (see Chavez, Hugo, assassination of, Aug. 22). "I want people to pray for you in this time of difficulty," he instructed.
DeLay's allies, while showing the requisite support of their embattled leader, are mostly avoiding full-throated defenses and unqualified proclamations of innocence. "We must all remember that in this country you are innocent until proven guilty," said the conservative Family Research Council's mild statement of support for DeLay.
The conservative radio crowd is not so circumspect. When DeLay called in to Tony Snow's Fox News show Thursday morning, the sympathetic host said that Earle violated legal ethics and asked: "Do you think he could or should be disbarred for this?" Probing deeper, Snow wondered: "Have any Democrats come to you on the q.t. and said I'm embarrassed by this?"
When DeLay called syndicated radio host Mike Gallagher that same morning, the conservative told the congressman "it's important for you to know how much support you continue to have." Gallagher, author of "Surrounded by Idiots: Fighting Liberal Lunacy in America," read DeLay an Ann Coulter quote that "the party that's now celebrating and popping champagne corks over Tom DeLay's indictment . . . worships at the altar of the president who was getting oral sex in the Oval Office on Easter Sunday."
"Ha, ha," DeLay answered.
Gallagher then exonerated DeLay. "You know, you're either going to have the charge dropped or you're going to be acquitted," he said. "That's not the issue."
"Right," DeLay confirmed.
Closing the interview, Gallagher, from his New York studio, showed DeLay the love he is not getting much in Washington. "You're going to make it, my friend," he said.
"This is a ham sandwich with no ham," DeLay told Pat Robertson, above.