House Rules Chair: Work Proceeds Despite Delay Indictment

Steve Inskeep talks with Rep. David Dreier (R-CA), chairman of the House Rules Committee, about some of the political troubles facing the Republican party, including the indictment of former House Majority Leader Tom Delay.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The troubled Supreme Court nomination is one of several challenges facing the Republican Party. Yesterday, a Texas court issued a warrant for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. He's already been indicted on charges of conspiracy and corruption. One of the most powerful lawmakers of recent times is expected to appear at a Texas sheriff's office today. He could be fingerprinted and photographed. In the coming days, we'll talk about the present and future of the party that controls the White House and Congress and we'll start with a lawmaker who was briefly considered as Tom DeLay's replacement and who remains highly influential. California Congressman David Dreier met us in a corner office at the Capitol where a fire burned in a nearby fireplace. His majority leader was removed just as Congress started struggling with the immense cost of hurricane relief.

Representative DAVID DREIER (Republican, California): We need to do everything that we possibly can to do the work of the American people. And, I mean, has the indictment of Tom DeLay created a bigger challenge for us? Absolutely. I mean, it's not easy, because he's a dedicated hard-working guy and thank heavens he's still helping us as a member of Congress, but we're proceeding with our work and we're proceeding with our very important agenda.

INSKEEP: Isn't the agenda different because, in part, of the troubles that DeLay has had? He was arguing that spending had been cut enough, other members of the caucus wanted more spending cuts, and in the end, he was forced to go along with that.

Rep. DREIER: Yeah. I think that's really a misinterpretation. I don't think that he believed that spending was cut enough. I mean, Tom DeLay is a conservative who always wants to cut more spending. I think what he was really arguing was that it's very tough to cut spending.

INSKEEP: Part of that is a political question, isn't it? How much of a spending cut can you enact into law without being so harmed politically that you lose control of the House? I mean, that's part of the calculus, isn't it?

Rep. DREIER: Absolutely. I mean, you're absolutely--I mean, it's a very fair thing. We want to--I mean, my view is it's not just over dollars. This is something that is really at our core, trying to not only reduce the expenditure burden but also the reach of the government and what it does. There is unanimity among Republican members that we need to bring about spending cuts. They...

INSKEEP: Does everybody agree about what to cut?

Rep. DREIER: No, that's the challenge that we have. Of course, you know, finding areas of agreement on what we cut is obviously tougher than just saying that they want to cut. And that's what we're working on right now. And I'm convinced that everyone is not going to be absolutely ecstatic of what the level is and exactly where they are, and the fact is I think that we can end up with a decent measure that can be agreed on.

INSKEEP: And in the midst of all this, you talked about the connection between policy and politics. We're at a moment when more people surveyed will say that they want Democrats in Congress than Republicans. Why do you think it is this moment when so many people are telling pollsters that they disapprove of what the president is doing or what Congress is doing or, in many cases, both?

Rep. DREIER: The short answer is I don't know, because I think that we have been doing a lot of good things, and I think that, you know, as I look at these numbers, I mean, I've got to tell you that doing the people's business is, I believe, the best answer to the criticism that we get, and they've rallied also around these ethics charges are--the Democratic leadership. I mean, they made a decision early on that they were just going to attack us on this ethics issue.

INSKEEP: Isn't it disappointing, from your point of view, that the Democrats have some material to work with? This is a Republican Party that came into power arguing that they wanted to clean up a corrupt Congress and...

Rep. DREIER: See, I don't believe that they have...

INSKEEP: And it's not just Tom DeLay. It's a widespread lobbying investigation.

Rep. DREIER: ...something to work with, Steve. I will tell you that I believe that if you look the DeLay critics, who have talked about how thin this case is, you've got to understand that politicization of this process is really what has happened.

INSKEEP: Do you think that all of the cases involving various members of Congress and Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist, and Indian casinos and allegations of misbehavior--all of those allegations are thin in the same way?

Rep. DREIER: Yeah. I can't pass judgment on all of that. All I know is is that people--Tom DeLay is the one who's been indicted. And this is the interpretation that so many have had, even his harshest critics, of the case brought against him. That's playing a role and leading people to understand that a lot of politics are involved in a lot of these ethics charges, and again, you go back to what the Democratic leadership team said was their goal in trying to take back the majority. It was to charge Republicans with ethics violations.

INSKEEP: Mr. Chairman, thanks very much.

Rep. DREIER: Oh, you bet. You bet.

INSKEEP: David Dreier, chairman of the House Rules Committee, spoke to us at the Capitol.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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