Slate's Politics: Fallout from DeLay Indictment

Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) stepped aside Wednesday as House Majority Leader after a Texas grand jury indicted him on a conspiracy charge in a campaign finance scandal. Alex Chadwick talks with Slate chief political correspondent John Dickerson about the political fallout from the indictment.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, a New Orleans homecoming as the coast finally does clear enough to allow more people back in.

First, the lead, more on political change in Washington. The indictment of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay by a Texas grand jury yesterday forced Mr. DeLay to give up that job of majority leader. From that position, he has for years run the Republican agenda through Congress with a manner that won him the nickname the Hammer. Now Republicans and Democrats are scrambling to figure out what comes next. John Dickerson, chief political correspondent for the online magazine Slate, has been working the phones and he finds that behind the scenes, both sides are actually rooting for Tom DeLay to make a comeback.

John, what is this? The Democrats obviously had some satisfaction at the troubles of one of their main tormenters, Tom DeLay. So why would some of them be privately hoping for him to come back?

JOHN DICKERSON (Slate): Well, you're exactly right. They were gleeful to see DeLay in such trouble, but other Democrats sort of behind the scenes were saying, `Look, he's the best villain we've got.' In these off-year elections, to have a majority leader in trouble in the Republican leadership of the House as well as a majority leader in the Senate in trouble is just great. It fills this narrative Democrats have been pushing for a while that the Republican Party is full of ethics violation and that they should all be thrown out. With DeLay stepping down, they lose a little bit of that narrative.

CHADWICK: Wouldn't Republicans also look at that and say, `Gee, that is a pretty good narrative. Maybe we should put Tom back on the bench for a little while and let someone else run with the ball'?

DICKERSON: That's right. You'd expect them to kind of send him off on an ice float and try to get somebody else in there, and there was a little bit of that. But Tom DeLay is very powerful for a number of different reasons. One, his colleagues think he might be back and he is very, very effective not only in getting votes past but at remembering who did him favors and who didn't, and he might kneecap anybody who drifts away from him too quickly. Also on the stump, he's very popular with the Republican base. Now the base turns out in these off-year elections, and they're the ones who rally behind Tom DeLay and they're likely to again in this instance. And any Republican running for re-election is going to want their base energized, and they're not likely to do anything to make them angry. And he raises a good deal of money for Republican candidates.

CHADWICK: Here's a line you have in your piece that's up on Slate: `He defies the elites and carries the air of having just kneed a partisan enemy in the groin.' That's a tough description of someone. Someone appears to have kneed in the groin the man that Tom DeLay had arranged to take his job; that's California Congressman David Dreier. He was supposed to assume this acting position, but he's not. What happened?

DICKERSON: Well, what happened is they knew this news about DeLay was coming and so Republican leaders decided to put Dreier in his job, and it was all wired. And the reason they'd picked Dreier is he's telegenic, which is important for a party undergoing some public relations problems. He's also--he was going to be a placeholder. He wasn't going to get rid of DeLay's staff. He was just going to move in there and then when the trouble cleared, he would move back out.

The problem is Dreier is a moderate and he's from California, and he's had some bad votes according to conservative groups and according to conservatives in his own caucus on issues from gay marriage to stem cell research to cloning. And so when the Republican conservatives heard that he was up for the post, e-mails started going around the Hill with all his votes on these various issues and AP stories about his positions on cloning. And there was opposition and there was somebody willing to fill the gap and that's Roy Blunt, the House whip for Republicans. And they went behind closed doors, and when it was all over, Blunt had the job.

CHADWICK: I'm puzzled that Tom DeLay would turn to a moderate like Mr. Dreier rather than to someone who would be closer to his own positions.

DICKERSON: Well, it's a very good question. Dreier, though, as a placeholder is not going to make any waves. He would take the job, and then when the smoke cleared, DeLay would be able to move back in. Blunt, insiders on the Hill think, has larger ambitions, and that now that he has the job, they're not so sure he's going to give it back if things clear up for Tom DeLay.

CHADWICK: OK. More on that coming up. Opinion and analysis from John Dickerson, chief political correspondent for the online magazine Slate.

John, thank you for joining us again.

DICKERSON: Thank you.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.