DeLay Departure Ripples Through Washington

What will be the political fallout from Republican Congressman Tom DeLay's impending resignation? Juan Williams talks to Steve Inskeep about the future of DeLay's Texas seat, and how his announcement will affect mid-term elections.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And now we're going to go to NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams.

Juan, good morning to you.

JUAN WILLIAMS (NPR Senior Correspondent):

Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: And let's talk about the midterm elections this fall. What effect will Tom DeLay's decision have?

WILLIAMS: Well, just look at the math for a second, Steve. The Democrats need to win 15 seats to gain control of the House, but there're only about 30 competitive seats. And why is that? Thanks in large part to redistricting efforts to protect incumbents, especially Republican incumbents--engineered by none other than Tom DeLay.

For now, though, over all, Democrats are seeking to nationalize this midterm election. And they can still point, I guess, to Tom DeLay and say that he's part of what Democrats called a, quote, “culture of corruption,” that seized the Republicans under DeLay. But Tom DeLay has now removed himself early and he's hoping that voters won't be able to focus on him in November. He can't, won't be the face of this culture of corruption charge coming from the Democrats.

INSKEEP: Interesting from what Andrea Seabrook said; that Tom DeLay is casting himself as sacrificing himself here for the party. He wasn't sure that he could hold that seat, so he wants to make sure Republicans do. What is likely to happen in that particular seat?

WILLIAMS: Well, you've got Nick Lampson, a former member of Congress running as the Democrat. You also got an Independent in the race. When Tom DeLay's aides did polls in the district, what they saw was a 50/50 chance of him winning or losing. And I think it would have been a great embarrassment to the party nationally. But I think also, to DeLay, personally. The idea is now that the Republican Party in Texas can appoint somebody, who might have a better chance of winning against Lampson, because the district is about 55 percent Republican.

So what you have is a situation where DeLay is taken out of the picture, though, for the entire State of Texas. Because he's a powerful man in terms of raising money, in terms of, you know, being able to activate the base. And all of a sudden, that's gone from Texas. He's going to relocate himself to Northern Virginia and become a Washington national figure. So he's gone from Texas politics.

INSKEEP: Hmm. And what do the remaining Republican leaders do now?

WILLIAMS: Boy, you know, that's really tough because, in a sense, his leadership era ended with the election of John Baynor, as majority leader to replace him. Roy Blunt, the congressman from Missouri had been DeLay's deputy, his choice to step in. He did not win the contest against Baynor.

So now, you have Baynor under pressure, I think, to really try to fill in for Tom DeLay, which is going to be very difficult; a man who really had exercised such intense control over the Republican vote in the House. A man, who I, from my perspective, now puts more pressure, his absence, on Bill Frist--even the leader of the Senate for the Republicans--because suddenly people are going to be looking to Bill Frist to exercise some control, discipline. But Frist, of course, is preoccupied with his presidential ambitions.

It's more pressure on President Bush in the White House. Even though the president's polls have been lagging, the president remains the one Republican who can raise money--go out and activate the base. And so, he's going to have to play a larger role, to again, to replace the loss of Tom DeLay.

INSKEEP: Juan, very briefly, we heard at the beginning the sound of Tom DeLay laying out his own legacy; bills that he'd had played in passing. What do you think his legacy will be?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think people are going to remember that he put together, and this is, you know, quoting Tom DeLay. What he called the “permanent Republican majority in Washington.” In the last ten years, he was the man who led the impeachment, in some ways, of President Clinton, blocked Clinton initiatives. The man who put together everything, he can say, from welfare reform to tort reform; but especially, large tax cuts that have had tremendous impact on the way this country is governed, Steve.

INSKEEP: Analysis from NPR senior correspondent: Juan Williams.

And again, the news today, Congressman Tom DeLay says he will resign his seat in congress sometime before mid June. The former House majority leader is under indictment in Texas as part of an investigation into alleged misuse of campaign funds. There's a separate investigation as well, and he sent news of his resignation by videotape.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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