Follow the Leader Tom DeLay's decision to stop trying to recapture the House majority leader's post came swiftly after lobbyist Jack Abramoff's guilty plea. While everyone wonders who else Abramoff will bring down with him, a bigger question is whether the Republicans will pay for this in November.
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Follow the Leader

Rep. Tom DeLay's showing in the March 7 Texas primary may give a hint on how Republicans back home feel about him. hide caption

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The passions of 1968 remain to this day. hide caption

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Thirty years ago today, the former DNC chairman launched his bid for president. hide caption

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The guilty plea by lobbyist Jack Abramoff put everyone in Washington on notice that the proverbial "other shoe" was about to drop. There's still no way of knowing just how many other shoes there are, and whether it will reach Imelda Marcos proportions.

Presumably, it's more than just the announcement by Tom DeLay, a former Abramoff ally, that he would not seek to reclaim the position of House majority leader. DeLay was forced to forfeit that post after he was indicted last year on a campaign finance charge in his native Texas. But it was a widespread view in Washington — though not shared here — that his banishment from the leadership was just a temporary glitch, that he would return to the job once he was exonerated on the Texas charges. That's the reason why House Republicans put off resuming the legislative session until Jan. 31: to give DeLay time to beat the Texas charges, clear his name, and resume his leadership. But it was the plea copped by Abramoff that made it a certainty that such a return to power for DeLay was not going to happen.

While everyone wonders who else Abramoff is going to bring down with him, a bigger question is whether the Republicans will pay for this in November. Some in the party clearly prefer this be seen as an "equal opportunity scandal," with voters blaming both parties equally. At the present, polls seem to indicate as much. But if Abramoff talks, and Democrats succeed in making the "culture of corruption" the No. 1 issue, GOP candidates could pay for it in November.

Republicans argue, and they are correct, that members of both parties have taken money from Abramoff and his clients. Harry Reid, the Senate minority leader, received money from Indian tribes represented by Abramoff, as did other Democrats. But there is a big difference between taking money from tribes and shaping or halting legislation because you got largesse from Abramoff. That's why this has become more of a Republican scandal than a bipartisan one.

To accomplish anything in Washington, it's the Republicans you need to deal with. They hold the power. That apparently was no hardship for Abramoff, who started off in the business years ago as head of the College Republicans. That's how he came to meet Republican and conservative leaders such as DeLay, Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist. Abramoff never hid his Republican bona fides. He raised $100,000 for the Bush '04 re-election effort. Abramoff and his wife gave personally to the Bush campaign. He hired top people out of DeLay's office, such as Michael Scanlon, DeLay's former press secretary, who has already pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe officials. And he apparently provided gifts, travel, meals and other amenities to Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), who chairs the House Administration Committee.

Another Republican House member, California's John Doolittle, has acknowledged that his wife was subpoenaed in the ongoing investigation. Media reports say that Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), who chairs an Appropriations subcommittee dealing with Indian affairs and who is seeking a fourth term this year, is also under scrutiny. Burns was quoted as saying of Abramoff, "I hope he goes to jail and we never see him again. I wish he'd never been born." While no one is even hinting that the trail goes very far into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., it should be noted that David Safavian, a former White House budget official, was arrested in September on charges of lying about his relationship with Abramoff.

Of course, seeing this as a mostly Republican scandal and voters taking it out on the GOP in November are two different things. Thus, we'll wait a bit before pronouncing the Grand Old Party and its control of Congress dead for 2006.

HISTORY: The decision by DeLay not to fight for his old post means there will be a new Republican majority leader this year; the election is slated for Feb. 2, though there are indications that it could come a week sooner. Until the GOP takeover of the House in 1995, Republicans had gone 40 years without being in control; their leader back then was Joseph Martin of Massachusetts. Here's a look back at every Republican floor leader in the House starting with Martin, how they attained their position, and how they lost it, if applicable:

Joseph Martin (MA)

Lost leadership: Jan. 1959, when he was ousted by Charles Halleck (R-IN), the GOP whip, by a vote of 74-70.

Stayed in House until: 1966, when he lost the GOP primary to Margaret Heckler.

Charles Halleck (IN)

Lost leadership: Jan. 1965, when he was ousted by Gerald Ford (R-MI), the GOP Conference chair, by a vote of 73-67.

Stayed in House until: retired in 1968.

Gerald Ford (MI)

Stayed in House until: 1973, when he was named as Richard Nixon's vice president.

Succeeded as GOP leader by: John Rhodes (R-AZ), chair of the House Republican Policy Committee, without opposition.

John Rhodes (AZ)

Lost leadership: voluntarily vacated position, 1980. Succeeded as leader in December 1980 by Robert Michel (R-IL), the GOP whip, who defeated Rep. Guy Vander Jagt (MI) by a vote of 103-87.

Stayed in House until: retired in 1982.

Robert Michel (IL)

Stayed in House until: retired in 1994. Republicans won control of the House in 1994 elections. Newt Gingrich (R-GA), the GOP Whip, was elected speaker, and Dick Armey (R-TX), the Republican Conference chair, was elected majority leader, both without opposition in December 1994.

Dick Armey (TX)

Stayed in House until: retired in 2002. Succeeded as leader by Tom DeLay (R-TX), the GOP whip, without opposition in November 2002.

Tom DeLay (TX)

Lost leadership: indicted on campaign finance charge in September 2005; resigned leadership post as required by GOP rules the same day. Decided in January 2006 he would not seek to reclaim his position. Speaker Dennis Hastert named Roy Blunt (R-MO), the GOP whip, as acting majority leader.

As of this writing, the choice to succeed DeLay is between Blunt and John Boehner (R-OH), the chair of the Education and Workforce Committee. Both have many supporters, and both have problems. Throughout all of DeLay's ethics problems, he was still the best vote counter the Republicans had. He was someone who could get his way on the House floor, a not-so-easy task given that polls are showing considerable voter weariness after five straight years of GOP control of both the presidency and the House. Since DeLay was forced from the leadership, Blunt has not performed as well. A vote on spending cuts had to be delayed several weeks because he couldn't get enough Republican votes to pass it. A spending bill for Labor, Education and HHS went down to defeat because 22 Republicans defected. As for Boehner, he had been part of the Gingrich team until his ouster as Republican Conference chair by Oklahoma's J.C. Watts in November 1998. Both he and Blunt have strong ties to the D.C. lobbying community, which could prove problematic, especially if the issue for 2006 is the image of the GOP in the wake of the Abramoff lobbying scandal.

With three weeks to go, Blunt — the choice of the Hastert-DeLay wing of the party — is considered the favorite. Some say a "throw-the-bums-out" mood could help Boehner. But he's not exactly a fresh new face either. To be continued.

And this came from Emmi Harward of Newport News, Va. back in November, which I'd like to share:

"As a government teacher, I created a chart of the congressional leadership for my students. Two Web sites I consulted had no one listed for House Majority Whip, and several others still had DeLay as Majority Leader. So I called the Whip's office in Washington. I asked the person who answered the phone who was the current Majority Whip. He replied, 'Roy Blunt, ma'am.' Confused, I asked him, 'Wasn't Blunt currently serving as House majority leader?' 'No,' he replied, Blunt is Majority Whip. So, I asked, did Tom DeLay not step down as majority leader? No ma'am, came the reply — 'Congressman Blunt is just assisting the majority leader.' Huh? Did I just imagine an indictment and headlines about DeLay stepping down and Blunt stepping (temporarily or not) into the role of majority leader? Was this kid confused or am I? I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Tom DeLay is still VERY involved in the day-to-day operations of the House, but Blunt is merely 'assisting?' P.S. I miss the days of your ScuttleButton button puzzles!"

On to the questions:

Q: I really enjoy the way you take political events from the past and compare them to things that are happening in the present. In that vein, I would be interested in seeing a breakdown of the Senate vote to confirm Thurgood Marshall, the first black justice on the Supreme Court. — James Holmes, Louisville, Ky.

A: On Aug. 30, 1967, the Senate voted 69-11 to confirm President Johnson's choice of Marshall to succeed retiring Justice Tom Clark, a conservative, on the court. The 11 no votes:

DEMOCRATS (10): Robert Byrd (WV), James Eastland (MS), Allen Ellender (LA), Sam Ervin (NC), Lister Hill (AL), Spessard Holland (FL), Ernest Hollings (SC), Russell Long (LA), John Sparkman (AL), Herman Talmadge (GA).

REPUBLICANS (1): Strom Thurmond (SC).

Twenty senators didn't vote, including Democrats John McClellan (AR) and George Smathers (FL), who voted against Marshall when the nomination was before the Judiciary Committee.

Q: On NPR's Morning Edition today [Dec. 13], there was a story about Congressman John Dingell of Michigan. It mentioned that he has served 50 years in the House, the third-longest tenure of all time. Who were the other two? — Myles Clowers, Professor Emeritus, San Diego City College, San Diego, Calif.

A: Just after that day's Morning Edition, NPR's Day to Day had on some guy named Ken Rudin, who explained that the record-holder is the late Jamie Whitten, a Mississippi Democrat. Whitten was elected a month before Pearl Harbor, in November of 1941, rose to become chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and served until he retired in 1994. He served 53 years, two months and 13 days.

Number two on the list is Carl Vinson, a Democrat from Georgia, who was first elected in 1914. Vinson served 50 years, two months, and 13 days, retiring in 1964. Dingell is primed to pass Vinson next month. To be the all-time leader and surpass Whitten's record, Dingell will have to serve until February of 2009.

McCARTHYISM: A lot of e-mail reax to the Dec. 12 column that featured a retrospective on the life and career of the late Sen. Eugene McCarthy. Robert Siegel, host of NPR's All Things Considered, said McCarthy's speech at the 1960 Democratic National Convention nominating Adlai Stevenson (when everyone knew John F. Kennedy was going to be the nominee) "was a landmark moment of my childhood." McCarthy's action no doubt contributed to the bitter feud between the Kennedys and himself that broke into the open years later. Robert writes, "I came from a devoutly Stevensonian household. My father felt about JFK just as Eleanor Roosevelt did. McCarthy's speech was incredibly moving to my 13-year old ears. …I have since read that Gene McCarthy's speech may have been eloquent, but his sincerity may have been tempered by a desire to block Kennedy, get Lyndon Johnson nominated and, perhaps, be named LBJ's running mate. But what a speech!"

Rima Rudd of Newton, Mass., writes that the column "brought up my own memories, serving as informal 'nurse' for many of the Clean for Gene members in Chicago after they were bashed by the police. It was awful but, oddly, hopeful at the same time. Now, sadly, those of us in opposition to similar tragic events compounded even more by lies and corruption seem immobile and overcome with despair."

Michael Feldman of North Potomac, Md., was "fervently anti-war" and a freshman at American University in Washington at the time of McCarthy's '68 presidential bid. He remembers the precise moment when McCarthy announced his candidacy: "I guess that was such an important day to me that I remember the date 38 years later." When Robert Kennedy announced his own candidacy several days after McCarthy's strong showing in the New Hampshire primary, "I was bitterly angry. We needed Kennedy earlier when it took political courage to stand up to your own party's political leader. His failure to do so until someone else proved it could be done was the ultimate in political cowardice, particularly when so many young lives were at stake." Michael concludes, "I don't know why I am writing you about this, except that McCarthy always will hold a special place in my heart for showing the kind of leadership that is noticeably lacking in current politics. It is hard to find a leader in the Democratic Party today who is willing to demonstrate the courage to do what McCarthy did and stand up against a foolish war when it appeared to be political suicide to do so."

But some had concerns about McCarthy. Mark Bernkopf of Arlington, Va., writes, "If only McCarthy had endorsed Vice President Humphrey after the Democratic convention. Of course, whoever had been elected president in 1968 would have faced a thankless task. But had it not been for McCarthy's petulance, there would have been no Watergate, at the very least."

And Ron Eckstein of Washington, D.C., adds that "it was fascinating to read that McCarthy backed Reagan over Carter in 1980. Did he ever address that later on? McCarthy couldn't have felt good about it." But he did! At the time McCarthy justified the endorsement by saying that anyone was better than Carter. But McCarthy was the kind of person who didn't forget slights and had a hard time letting go old feuds. Carter was not his kind of Democrat — as proven by McCarthy's independent presidential candidacy in '76 — and the sour feelings remained with him in 1980. There were a lot of liberals who didn't feel Carter deserved re-election. But not many went so far as to endorse Ronald Reagan.

By the way, in response to the Dec. 22 column that listed those in the political world who passed away in 2005, Rebecca Zylberman of the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress writes that there were three House members we missed: Peter Garland (R-ME 1961-62), 81, who died on Jan. 26; John Lesinski Jr. (D-MI 1951-64), 90, on Oct. 21; and Albert Bosch (R-NY 1953-60), 97, on Nov. 21. In addition to Garland, three other politicos from Maine passed away last year: Robert Porteous, a former Republican state lawmaker who lost a 1972 bid for Congress, at 81 on Jan. 22; Georgette Berube, who lost the 1982 Dem primary for governor to Joe Brennan, at 77 on Feb. 16; and former state Attorney General Jim Erwin, the GOP gubernatorial nominee in 1970 and '74, at 84 on July 14. Also passing after we compiled our list were Jane Burgio, the first female Secretary of State of New Jersey who was appointed by Gov. Tom Kean in 1982, at 83 on Dec. 20; Joseph Anastasi, a Maryland Democrat who lost to Rep. Gilbert Gude (R) in 1972, at 68 on Dec. 20; and Neil Strawser, a veteran CBS newsman who covered President Kennedy's assassination, the Watergate hearings and numerous political campaigns, at 78 on Dec. 31.

And then, this:

David Rosenbaum: The unfathomable shock and unspeakable sadness following the murder of New York Times reporter and editor David Rosenbaum has not subsided. Rosenbaum, 63, was the victim of an apparent mugging in Washington on the evening of Jan. 6, and he died two days later. To those who had the privilege of knowing him — I first met him on Michigan's Mackinac Island, in June of 1988, when I was covering the Democratic Party Platform Committee hearings for ABC News — he was a generous and wonderful human being who loved to talk politics and offer advice to relative novices in the field of journalism. He was a remarkable reporter whose articles you were immediately drawn to, who knew Congress and campaigns and the budget process inside and out, and whose reputation for fairness and accuracy was unquestioned. His death was senseless and utterly heartbreaking, and he will be missed.

This day in campaign history: Former Sen. Fred Harris (D-OK), an ex-chairman of the Democratic National Committee, announces his candidacy for his party's 1976 presidential nomination. He is the third Democrat to enter the race, following Rep. Mo Udall of Arizona and former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter (Jan. 11, 1975).

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: