Tom DeLay Resigns Leadership Post
The AP reports that Tom DeLay is stepping down permanently as House Majority Leader.
Embattled Rep. Tom DeLay decided Saturday to give up his post as House majority leader, clearing the way for new leadership elections among Republicans eager to shed the taint of scandal, two officials said. These officials said DeLay, R-Texas, was preparing a letter informing fellow House Republicans of his decision. These officials spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they did not want to pre-empt the formal announcement.
DeLay’s defiant, take-no-prisoners style had won him the admiration and respect of fellow Republicans, but his mounting problems cast a shadow over the whole chamber. DeLay is battling campaign finance charges in Texas and was forced to step aside temporarily as majority leader last fall after he was charged in his home state. He has consistently maintained his innocence and said he intended to resume his leadership post once cleared. His about-face came amid growing pressure from fellow Republicans who were concerned about their own political futures in the wake of this week’s guilty pleas by lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
This is a bitter pill for DeLay to swallow but a necessary one if the Republicans are to have a shot at keeping their control of the Congress in November’s elections.
The writing was very much on the wall for this. Jonathan Weisman reported this morning that the tide was turning against DeLay.
Rank-and-file House Republicans took the first formal step toward permanently replacing Rep. Tom DeLay (Tex.) in the House’s leadership by unveiling a petition to hold a special leadership election in the coming weeks. The petition — drafted by moderate Reps. Charles Bass (N.H.) and Christopher Shays (Conn.) and conservative Rep. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) with the support of as many as two dozen members — is the latest blow to DeLay, who was forced to relinquish his post as majority leader in September after he was indicted in Texas on campaign finance charges. DeLay had hoped that case would be resolved in his favor by the end of January, clearing the way for his return. Instead, it has dragged on through a series of pretrial maneuvers.
Then this week, lobbyist and DeLay ally Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to charges of public corruption and conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with federal investigators in what promises to be one of the largest federal bribery scandals in decades. Abramoff’s guilty plea includes multiple references to the actions of Tony C. Rudy — while he was DeLay’s deputy chief of staff — on Abramoff’s behalf.
DeLay has repeatedly asserted that the charges in Texas are a politically inspired vendetta by a Democratic prosecutor, Ronnie Earle, and that he has nothing to fear from the Abramoff probe, with which he says he has cooperated fully. In recent days, however, prominent Republicans have begun counseling DeLay that he should renounce claims to the majority leader’s post, for the good of the party and for the good of his long-term political career, leadership aides and DeLay allies said this week. “People are worried about the other shoe waiting to drop,” Flake said yesterday. “Fairly or not,” he said, DeLay has “become the public face of a culture gone bad in Washington.”
Carl Hulse had a similar story in the NYT, adding:
“Rightly or wrongly, Mr. DeLay is seen as the public face of Washington, and it is not healthy right now,” Mr. Flake said. “We need a course correction.”
While the petition calls only for the election of a permanent majority leader, the rank-and-file could push for more if enough lawmakers conclude a broader shake-up is warranted. Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois appears safe in his spot, but the turmoil represented another significant challenge to his ability to hold his caucus together without the help of Mr. DeLay, his longtime partner in running the House.
At least one Republican, Representative Melissa A. Hart of Pennsylvania, said Friday that if there is to be an election it should encompass a wider evaluation of the leadership. “The current letter being circulated by Congressmen Flake and Bass does not go far enough,” she said in a statement. “The Republican Conference is run by a leadership team and when the majority leader position becomes vacant, the conference needs the ability to reassess the leadership team as a whole.”
One senior House leadership aide, who would not be publicly identified discussing the delicate topic of internal leadership elections, said the leadership situation was volatile, making it difficult to foresee what might occur. “It feels to me like we are going to see some changes,” the aide said.
Fair or not, the public perception is that DeLay is corrupt and Congress is corrupt. It’s not too big a leap from there to “the Republicans are corrupt.” As good a tactician as DeLay has been, he is a poor symbol for the party.
Update: From the DeLay Press Office: U.S. Representative Tom DeLay (R-Texas) sent the following letter to Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert, explaining his decision to permanently step down as majority leader:
Dear Mr. Speaker,
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.
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.
I will continue to serve my constituents and seek re-election to a 12th term representing Texas’ 22nd district while I work to clear my name of the baseless charges leveled against me. I will also be reclaiming my seat on the Appropriations Committee when the second session of the 109th Congress convenes later this month.
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