DeLay will not resume as leader


Embattled Rep. Tom DeLay speaks during a news conference after announcing his decision to abandon his bid to remain as House majority leader Saturday, Jan. 7, 2006 in Sugar Land, Texas.

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Published: Sunday, January 8, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 8, 2006 at 12:13 a.m.
WASHINGTON - Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, one of the most powerful and feared Republican leaders in Washington, abandoned his quest to regain his House majority leader post Saturday, bowing to pressure from fellow Republicans worried about the growing corruption and campaign finance scandals linked to his office.
Delay's announcement in his home town of Sugar Land, Texas, ends his decade-long tenure as a legislative juggernaut and conservative ideologue who revolutionized the relationship between power and money in Washington. It also cleared the way for a leadership contest that could further shake up the House GOP team going into an uncertain election year. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said Republicans would choose a new majority leader and other officers the week of Jan. 30, when members return for President Bush's State of the Union address.
House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who has served as acting majority leader since September, when DeLay was forced to step down after his indictment on campaign finance charges, will ask his colleagues to make his post permanent. Sources close to House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner, R-Ohio, confirmed he will challenge Blunt.
But dark horse candidates are likely to emerge, from the ideological conservative Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., to veteran House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif.
''There has been this desperate plea for someone to take charge,'' said Charles Cook, an independent political analyst. Republicans ''are looking for some leadership, someone that has some sense of what they ought to be doing.''
DeLay, 58, who served as House majority whip for eight years before becoming majority leader in late 2002, had resolved to return to leadership since he was indicted by a Texas grand jury on charges of money laundering and conspiracy linked to his efforts to finance state political campaigns. DeLay contended the indictments were a political vendetta by the Democratic Travis County prosecutor, Ronnie Earle, and until recently most Republicans supported that view.
But last week's guilty plea by Republican lobbyist and DeLay ally Jack Abramoff dramatically changed the political climate, according to many lawmakers and political experts. A source close to the Republican leadership said DeLay was counseled by senior Republicans, including House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., but that DeLay ultimately made the decision, calling Hastert Saturday morning.
''I am writing to inform you of my decision to permanently step aside as majority leader, and of my belief that the best interests of the conference would be served by the election of a new leader as soon as possible,'' DeLay wrote in a letter to Hastert. ''The job of majority leader and the mandate of the Republican majority are too important to be hamstrung, even for a few months, by personal distractions.''
He vowed to reclaim his seat on the appropriations committee and to stand for re-election in what appears to be a difficult race against a former House member, Democrat Nick Lampson, and possibly a primary challenger in former Republican Rep. Steve Stockman.
In a second letter to his colleagues calling for a leadership election, DeLay wrote, ''During my time in Congress, I have always acted in an ethical manner within the rules of our body and the laws of our land. I am fully confident time will bear this out. However, we live in serious times and the United States House of Representatives must be focused on the job of protecting our nation and meeting the daily challenges facing the American people. History has proven that when House Republicans are united and focused, success follows.''
DeLay has maintained he has nothing to fear from the Abramoff corruption and bribery probe. But federal investigators signaled they are inching closer to his office when on Tuesday, they highlighted the activities of his former deputy chief of staff, Tony C. Rudy, in Abramoff's plea agreement.
Although DeLay's hard-edged political style and tactics frequently drew complaints over the years, his political and legal problems first began to emerge in 2004, when he was admonished by the House ethics committee, for holding a social event with energy industry officials as the House was considering an energy bill and for enlisting the Federal Aviation Administration to track down Texas Democratic lawmakers fleeing the state to avoid a vote on a congressional redistricting bill DeLay helped draft.
DeLay's court fight in Texas, which he had hoped would be quickly resolved, was also dragging on, complicating any return to leadership, but it was Abramoff's plea agreement with prosecutors that ultimately forced his downfall.
''DeLay is the first political casualty of the Abramoff affair,'' said Republican political strategist Rich Galen. ''I don't think there's any question about that.''
DeLay's departure deprives House Republicans of their strongest leader and an unparalleled political tactician, said Stuart Rothenberg, a congressional expert. Since he stepped down in late September, the party has had a series of high-profile embarrassments in failing to pass legislation. Republican moderates split with conservatives on key immigration, social policy and spending issues. The ensuing sense of drift, as much as the scandals, had fueled a rank-and-file desire for change, Cook said.
''Republicans never drifted aimlessly while Tom DeLay was in charge, and the last three months have just been a horror show,'' Cook said.
DeLay's decision also deprives Democrats of the political villain they have been cultivating since the departure of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., in 1998, Cook and Rothenberg said.
Democrats will try to keep the public focused on DeLay, Rothenberg said, and Saturday they did just that, giving the departing leader an unfriendly farewell.
''For years, at the expense of the American people, the House Republicans have enabled and benefited from the Republican culture of corruption engineered by Tom DeLay,'' said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. ''The culture of corruption is so pervasive in the Republican conference that a single person stepping down is not nearly enough to clean up the Republican Congress.''
(Optional Add End) Just how anxious Republicans are to avoid such charges could determine the next leadership team, political analysts said. Blunt enters the race as the favorite, with the current chief deputy whip, Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., expected to take over as House majority whip. But some members question Blunt's effectiveness in passing legislation, while some conservatives doubt his commitment to a strong GOP policy agenda, House members and GOP strategists said. If members think that the departure of DeLay from the scene is not enough to satisfy voters that the party is taking the scandals seriously enough, then Blunt's bid to become leader might be threatened.
The other likely candidate, is a former member of the House leadership with close ties to Washington's lobbying community, and may have difficulty picking up the banner of reform, Rothenberg said.
That could give an opening to a dark horse, perhaps Pence, the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, or Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., another conservative seen by many as a more collegial candidate than Pence.
''Congressman Shadegg has been approached by a number of members, including both conservatives and moderates, who have encouraged him to consider seeking this position,'' Shadegg spokesman Michael Steel said of the majority leader's post. ''He is, of course, honored and flattered. However, there are a lot factors involved. There are others who are interested in the position, some of whom may already have substantial support. He is seeking further input from his colleagues in the conference, and has not made any decision.''
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., may have signaled his bid for a leadership post when he issued a statement on DeLay's departure before anyone else, GOP political strategists said. Rogers, a former FBI agent who focused on public corruption, would be attractive to members looking for a new image.
''It all depends on how frightened the members are, how much of a statement they need to make that they're shaking up their leadership and embracing a statement of change and reform,'' Rothenberg said.

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