Politicians Assess Tom DeLay Indictment

A day after Tom DeLay's indictment, which forced him to step down as House majority leader, members of both parties try to assess what it all means. DeLay faces a single count of criminal conspiracy relating to state campaign finance laws.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Today is day one of the post-Tom DeLay leadership in the House of Representatives. Capitol Hill is still buzzing over DeLay's indictment yesterday and his stepping aside as majority leader. In a few minutes we'll hear more about the man taking his place for the time being, Roy Blunt of Missouri. First, NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports on a hectic day for congressional Republicans.

ANDREA SEABROOK reporting:

In the all the chatter after the tumultuous events surrounding Tom DeLay yesterday, there was a conspicuous absence of Democratic voices. Not so today.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Minority Leader): The Republicans are crumbling.

SEABROOK: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi ticked off a list of problems plaguing Republicans right now, from DeLay's indictment to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's questionable stock sale, to last week's arrest of a White House official charged with obstructing justice in an investigation into an indicted Republican lobbyist. Pelosi said Americans are finally learning the truth about Republicans in Washington.

Rep. PELOSI: They are corrupt. They act in a corrupt way. They have a culture of corruption here. It's about cronyism. It's about favoritism to their friends in contracting, cronyism in hiring. It's about incompetence. And that's from here to the White House.

SEABROOK: This is exactly the kind of criticism Republicans hoped to dodge by rallying around DeLay yesterday and unanimously approving Majority Whip Roy Blunt to fill DeLay's post for the time being. But today is a new day, and it's clear to many Republicans that this strategy might not work. Tennessee Congressman Zach Wamp said Republicans are still rooting for DeLay, but...

Representative ZACH WAMP (Republican, Tennessee): There's a big difference between rooting for him, 'cause he's tough and he's done so much for Republicans, and the reality of the ordeal that he faces. The reality is not as rosy as everyone's hopes and aspirations.

SEABROOK: DeLay not only has an indictment for criminal conspiracy to fight off; he's got an election coming off next year in his suburban Houston district, and all bets are that it's going to be a tough battle. Today the now former House majority leader focused his energy on his base of voters by going on conservative talk radio, including this show on KTRH in Houston hosted by Sam Malone.

(Soundbite of talk radio program)

Mr. SAM MALONE (Talk Radio Host): I mean, you've been doing this for a long time. You've been a target, Tom, for a long time. People have been swinging at your head, Tom, for a long time.

Representative TOM DeLAY (Republican, Texas; Former Majority Leader): Yeah, yeah.

Mr. MALONE: Sooner or later you gotta go, `Oh, my gosh, I can't take this anymore.'

Rep. DeLAY: No, no, no, no.

Mr. MALONE: OK.

Rep. DeLAY: We're doing what I think is right for the nation. I mean, we are doing some pretty amazing things and have for the last 11 years, and Democrats hate that.

SEABROOK: While Republican leaders try to keep the media's focus on the legislative agenda, rank-and-file Republicans are watching their leaders carefully. Several members of Congress say Speaker Dennis Hastert has already announced that the conference will revisit the leadership structure later this year or early next. And what that means to most Republicans, including Ohio's John Boehner, is possible party elections.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): We got a lot of work to do. And I do think the outcome of the rest of the year will dictate whether the arrangement lasts or something else replaces it.

SEABROOK: So all eyes are on this lineup of House leaders. Dennis Hastert stays in the speaker's office, while Whip Roy Blunt takes over the duties of the majority leader and gets help from others in his whip job. Blunt said today he's up to the challenge of this unique job-sharing arrangement and insisted that DeLay's indictment hasn't flustered his party.

Representative ROY BLUNT (Republican, Missouri; Majority Whip; Temporary Majority Leader): Actually, in a unique way, I think the problems of this week have brought our conference closer together. They've reunited us. They've refocused us.

SEABROOK: But it can't be easy for rank-and-file Republicans to watch Tom DeLay, the man that was their powerhouse for more than a decade, move from the majority leader's spacious Capitol office suite to a regular old congressional office in one of the buildings across the street. Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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