Slate's Politics: National Impact of DeLay Resignation

His future clouded by ethics charges and criminal investigations, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) says he will resign from Congress. Democrats have used DeLay as an example of what they call the "culture of corruption" in the Republican-controlled federal legislature. Madeleine Brand speaks with Slate chief political columnist John Dickerson about the impact DeLay's resignation could have on national politics.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, the NCAA Final Four this year, and what it's going to mean for next year. A visit from the brothers Sklar.

BRAND: But first, the hammer is returning to the toolbox. Congressman Tom DeLay, the former House Majority Leader and famously effectively legislator, hence the hammer name, announced this morning that he will resign his Texas seat and not seek reelection. DeLay explained his decision this morning on Fox News.

Representative TOM DELAY (Republican, Texas): The challenge has always been in the interest of the conservative cause and the Republican majority. And my, I'm more interested in growing the Republican majority than my own future. I can still be out there working for the Republican majority and the conservative movement and not jeopardize this seat.

BRAND: And joining us to analyze the DeLay resignation is John Dickerson. He's chief political correspondent for the online magazine Slate, and a regular guest here on DAY TO DAY. And John, DeLay says he's stepping down because he doesn't want to endanger this seat, that the fight for his reelection be too nasty and expensive, and that he might actually lose that seat. Does this sound like the Tom DeLay we all know?

Mr. JOHN DICKERSON (Chief Political Columnist, Slate): Well, no, it doesn't. He is, the one we know is a tenacious fighter, and one of the things you learn covering Tom DeLay and that we all had to learn when the Republicans took over about him, is that mostly when the odds were stacked against him, he would win, and he would pull out victories when the conventional wisdom was going the other way. So, this doesn't sound like him at all. And it means his race must really have looked bad to him when he made his decision.

BRAND: Now, let's talk about the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and how it may relate to this decision or not. Two of his former aides have pleaded guilty. The latest was just last week, Tony Rudy. Is this just mere coincidence?

Mr. DICKERSON: No, not at all. I mean, DeLay says that he's in legal jeopardy, and of course he's going to say that. But even if he's in no legal jeopardy, this obviously contributed to the enormous cloud around him. And one of the challenges for DeLay has always been the way he does business. And he's unapologetic about it, even in his exit interviews with Time Magazine and others. He talks about how they took over K Street and won the lobbying battle in Washington. He's, you know, neck deep in lobbying in Washington, and so when these lobbyists get in trouble, it doesn't take a great leap to join them to Tom DeLay even if there's no specific illegal activity.

BRAND: Now, DeLay stepped down from his leadership post last year. How has his absence affected the Republican agenda?

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, it's hard to say, because so much of the Republican agenda has been confused and mixed up because of what the president has done both in Iraq, and then on the Dubai Port deal, and in the immigration debate. So a lot of the agenda has been affected by the president's behavior. But what you hear from people in the House is that, essentially, it's been a huge distraction. The Republicans have had to put a new team together. That new team needs to get its sort of legs underneath them as they learn how to count votes and pressure people. And really no one, no matter how good a team they put together in the post-DeLay era, no one has his talent for knowing where the votes are, knowing where each individual member's pressure points are, and being able to play that inside game. There's just no one like Tom DeLay.

BRAND: Is DeLay's resignation good news for Republicans running for reelection in November? Is there enough time now for them to distance themselves from the lobbying scandal?

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, we'll have to see how this plays out. In the short term, it makes Democrats feel great. They've, you know, the king killer, they've gotten rid of Tom DeLay, the great boogey man. On the other hand, they've now lost the great boogey man, Tom DeLay, and Republicans can put the sort of notion of a culture of corruption behind them. So Democrats who are maybe motivated for the moment, but Republicans could use this as a way to kind of turn the page from the DeLay era, but we'll just have to see how that works out.

BRAND: Opinion and analysis from John Dickerson. He's chief political correspondent for the online magazine Slate. Thank you, John.

Mr. DICKERSON: Thank you.

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