Tough Fights Loom over DeLay, Alito

It's a busy week for political observers. Republicans face what could be a bitter battle to elect a new House majority leader, and the Senate Judiciary Committee is set for contentious hearings over the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Here in Washington, Republican members of Congress are preparing to choose a new leader and we're going to get some analysis this morning from NPR's Cokie Roberts.

Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS reporting:

Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I want to start with the leader who's stepping off the stage. Tom DeLay insisted that he would fight to keep his job as House majority leader, but he announced over the weekend he's stepping down. Why now?

ROBERTS: Well, the widening investigation into the Jack Abramoff scandal and Abramoff's cooperation with the federal government is making it very hard. Multiple FBI field offices involved and staffers and former staffers of Tom DeLay. Now DeLay said over the weekend he is not a target of that investigation. But Republicans are getting very, very nervous about it and they really essentially could not afford to keep Tom DeLay as majority leader.

In fact, Steve, it's sort of a testament to tenacity that he lasted as long as he did and I think people in the House are fearful of him. Many of them are grateful to him. A lot of them actually like him very much and they didn't like the Democratic prosecutor in Texas going after him. But now with this Abramoff business widening, it's threatening them all and there was a petition circulated on Friday by some younger members of the Republican Caucus asking for a leadership race and it became clear after Speaker Hastert essentially cut Tom DeLay loose and said he'd support that petition, that DeLay had to go.

INSKEEP: So what happens now?

ROBERTS: Well, leadership fights are the most bitter fights that you ever have in Congress. They're personal, not a lot of truth-telling goes on among the members and they can leave permanent scars of the people who were there for them. And this is likely to be even more awful than most because there are some young Turks in the Republican Caucus who want to throw out the whole team and show that the Republicans are cleaning house. So far, their two main candidates are Roy Blunt, he's been acting in the job from Missouri, John Boehner from Ohio. But each claims that he has a tremendous amount of support, which is normal in these circumstances. But there's some grumbling again among these younger members that these two men represent more of the same and that they need one of their own, a young member who's going to call for massive House cleaning to come in. Look, these are Republicans very nervous about the 2006 election and about losing power in the House and wanting to show the voters that there really is a change in the, quote, "corrupt culture of Washington" which the Democrats have been touting.

INSKEEP: So while House Republicans are focusing on that, the Senate is getting ready for hearings over President Bush's Supreme Court nominee, Samuel Alito. What are you expecting this week?

ROBERTS: Well, over the weekend, the Democrats made very clear what their opposition will be to Judge Alito. They went on all of the talk shows and Senator Edward Kennedy had an OP-ED in The Washington Post and the main issue, of course, is going to be abortion and his views on that. But there are also going to be questions about executive power and whether he believes too strongly in executive power and what the Democrats call his credibility over the issue of his hearing cases about Vanguard funds which he invests in. I think they're going to listen, hear what he says and how he says it in these hearings and then decide what strategy to take because the decision has not been made about whether to filibuster him, although at the moment that seems somewhat unlikely.

INSKEEP: Cokie, I want to ask about something else. We learned over the weekend that a longtime congressional correspondent and a friend of yours, David Rosenbaum, was murdered in Washington over the weekend.

ROBERTS: And the brother of our colleague, Marc Rosenbaum at NPR. David was mugged in his neighborhood Friday night and died last night. You know, you hear so many scandals out of Washington, Steve, you forget the good part, people who were here working every day to serve the public and to explain the people who were serving the public and David absolutely did that. He was a reporter who covered Congress, public policy, economic policy, made it clear so that voters could make up their own minds about what the policy should be and who they should support and he did it very, very well for many decades.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much. That's NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts on this Monday morning.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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