DeLay DeParts DeCongress Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader denounced by Democrats as the "poster boy" for a "Republican culture of corruption," is stepping down from office. But though his election problems may be gone, there is still the Abramoff investigation to contend with, says Political Editor Ken Rudin.
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DeLay DeParts DeCongress

Tom DeLay's long political career ends... but his problems may be just beginning. hide caption

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This button, from the Watergate era in 1973, can be used in perpetuity. hide caption

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Will the Democrats in 2006 appropriate a Republican slogan from 1946? hide caption

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Eighteen years ago today, Michael Dukakis won the Wisconsin primary, essentially ending the suspense regarding the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination. hide caption

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It had nothing to do with the Abramoff investigation, said the man whose former deputy chief of staff had, only three days prior, pleaded guilty to influence peddling — a plea that, for the first time, puts ethical misconduct directly into the office of Congressman Tom DeLay.

Whatever, the biggest surprise about the announcement by the former House majority leader — that he will not only drop out of his race for re-election but resign from Congress as well — is perhaps that it came as a surprise. It was one thing to be indicted in Texas on what may or may not have been a bogus charge by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle. Republicans claim Earle is hopelessly partisan, and regardless, they were confident the indictment would be thrown out. But when you find yourself in the middle of an investigation by the federal government, as part of a wider scandal involving former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, then it's not to be dismissed as a mere nuisance. It did not shock or awe anyone when DeLay dropped his goal of regaining his post of majority leader earlier this year — a position he had to forfeit following his indictment in Texas — once Abramoff pleaded guilty and started talking to prosecutors. It was at that moment when it appeared his long political career was reaching the end of the line. So perhaps his resignation shouldn't come as a surprise, either.

DeLay insists that his reason for stepping down is not about any ethics investigation. It's that he didn't have the appetite for a "negative, personal campaign" — which is what his bid for a 12th term had become. He says he could have defeated his Democratic rival, former Congressman Nick Lampson, but not without a price. It would have taken too much out of him, his constituents, and his party. And so by stepping aside, he argues, a stronger Republican can come forward to fight for the seat. On that count, he's probably right. It's a district that President Bush carried in 2004 with 64 percent. And while Texas' 22nd Congressional District has become more Democratic — an outcome that DeLay is responsible for, having ceded some of his GOP bastions to help increase Republican representation in neighboring districts — his relatively weak showing two years ago, against an unfunded and unheard-of rival, is attributed more to his own ethical shortcomings than anything else.

If you buy the Democrats' argument that a Republican "culture of corruption" is pervading Congress, and that Tom DeLay is the culture's poster boy, then his removal from the scene may ultimately be good news for the GOP. The only reason anyone has ever heard of Nick Lampson was because he was running against DeLay. With DeLay now on the sidelines, will anyone care about Nick Lampson? Will Barbra Streisand, George Soros and Co. continue to open their checkbooks for someone running against a no-name Republican? A good question. DeLay said on the day of his resignation announcement that it was the worst day of Lampson's campaign. There may be some truth to that.

But do Republican election woes disappear simply because DeLay is gone from the scene? No, not when there's an unpopular president conducting an unpopular war. It's very possible that voters' attitudes for the '06 midterms are already set. But seven months is a long time off.

Back to Texas. Was it fair to say that, until his announcement, DeLay was in for the fight of his life? Absolutely. Would he have won? Unclear. But his problems may be just beginning. Not only is Tony Rudy, DeLay's former deputy chief of staff, singing, but another former aide, Michael Scanlon, has already copped a guilty plea in the Abramoff investigation. And the next shoe to drop may involve Edwin Buckham, a former chief of staff and current lobbyist who is considered DeLay's closest adviser. Buckham left DeLay's employ to go work for Abramoff.

THE SEAT: Texas law states that a nominee can be replaced on the ballot only if he dies, is convicted of a felony, or moves out of the state. In announcing his decision to resign effective no later than mid-June, DeLay said he would move from Sugar Land, Texas, to Alexandria, Va. (where he has a residence). GOP leaders in the district could then decide upon a replacement nominee for the November battle against Lampson. Those being considered include Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace, Harris County Judge Robert Eckels and state Rep. Robert Talton.

But that's just for the general election. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) may very well decide to call a special election once DeLay resigns. In that case, every candidate — and I mean every candidate — will run on the same ballot. (This would be entirely separate from the regular November election.) Assuming no one wins a majority of the vote in the special, the top two finishers, regardless of party, will advance to a runoff. Any list of possible candidates should include Tom Campbell, the Houston attorney who won 30 percent of the vote against DeLay in the March 7 primary, and who has indicated he would like to run again. Also in the mix is former Congressman Steve Stockman, who had been planning on running as an independent while DeLay was still in the race, but who now has reaffirmed his GOP roots.

The most memorable Texas free-for-all special election came in 1961, following the departure of Sen. Lyndon Johnson (D) to be vice president. Seventy-one candidates jumped into the race to succeed LBJ. John Tower, the sacrificial lamb that the GOP had put up to run against Johnson in 1960, was the lone Republican in the field. Tower went on to win the runoff . He became the first Texas Republican senator since Reconstruction and played an early role in the transformation of the Lone Star State into a Republican bastion.

On to the questions:

Q: Can a citizen of the United States request or initiate a hearing for impeachment of the president? Or is it only a member of Congress who has that power?— Debbie Hostbjor, Bend, Ore.

A: While anyone may call for the impeachment of the president, only a member of Congress can introduce such legislation. Currently, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) has introduced House Resolution 635, which would create a select committee to investigate grounds for recommending the impeachment of President Bush. According to various pro-impeachment organizations, Conyers has 29 co-sponsors, all Democrats (except for Sanders of Vermont, an independent): Neil Abercrombie (HI), Tammy Baldwin (WI), Michael Capuano (MA), Lois Capps (D-CA), William Lacy Clay (MO), Sam Farr (CA), Maurice Hinchey (NY), Mike Honda (CA), Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX), Barbara Lee (CA), John Lewis (GA), Carolyn Maloney (NY), Jim McDermott (WA), Cynthia McKinney (GA), Gwen Moore (WI), Jerrold Nadler (NY), James Oberstar (MN), John Olver (MA), Major Owens (NY), Donald Payne (NJ), Charles Rangel (NY), Martin Sabo (MN), Bernie Sanders (VT), Jan Schakowsky (IL), Pete Stark (CA), John Tierney (MA), Nydia Velazquez (NY), Maxine Waters (CA) and Lynn Woolsey (CA).

Ultimately, Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution states that the House of Representatives "shall have the sole Power of Impeachment," and that the Senate "shall have the sole Power to try all impeachments." While a majority of the House is needed for impeachment — as we saw with President Clinton in 1998 — two-thirds of the Senate must vote for conviction in order to remove someone from office. Since 1789, only 17 federal officials have been impeached by the House, and only seven of them — all federal judges — were convicted in the Senate.

Q: Regarding Sen. Bill Frist's (R-TN) expected bid for the White House, I know that no Senate majority leader has ever been directly elected to the presidency. But how many have tried? — Joe Whitaker, Washington, D.C.

Of course, should Frist seek the presidential nomination in 2008, he will do it as a private citizen; he is leaving the Senate after this year. No sitting Republican majority leader has ever sought the presidency. Bob Dole was minority leader when he ran in 1988. And when he finally won the nomination in 1996, Dole had already relinquished the post of majority leader — and his Senate seat as well. The presidential bids of Robert Taft (R-OH) and, years later, Howard Baker (R-TN) both occurred before they became majority leaders in 1953 and 1981, respectively. For the record, while Majority Leader Charles Curtis (R-KS) did not make a serious bid for the 1928 nomination, he did receive 64 votes at the convention; he was ultimately selected as VP.

On the Democratic side, the most prominent majority leader turned presidential candidate was Lyndon Johnson. He challenged Sen. John F. Kennedy for the nomination at the 1960 convention, and though he failed, he was named to the ticket as vice president. When former Majority Leader Alben Barkley (D-KY) made a bid for the 1952 nomination, he was vice president at the time. And West Virginia's Robert Byrd became majority leader in 1977, a year after his brief run for the presidency.

Q: Newt Gingrich suggested the other day that Democrats should adopt the slogan "Had enough?" for the 2006 midterm elections. I thought I heard someone say that this was a slogan used by Democrats in the 1946 or '48 election. Is that true? — Donna Brazile, Washington, D.C.

A: It was the Republicans who famously used the "Had Enough?" slogan in the 1946 midterm elections to win control of Congress. With the Truman administration sinking in the polls and a serious meat shortage leading to widespread voter frustration and anger, Republicans picked up an astounding 56 seats in the House that year, plus 13 in the Senate.

The GOP victory glow did not last long. Truman, his chances for a full term written off by nearly everyone, ran a spirited "give 'em hell" campaign in 1948, lambasting the Republican "Do-Nothing" 80th Congress, and won a surprise victory. Along with Truman came a stunning reversal in the battle for Congress. Democrats won back both chambers, picking up 75 seats (yes, you read that correctly) in the House and nine in the Senate.

DON'T CALL ME CHIEF: A few e-mails followed the March 29 column about White House chiefs of staff. Ray Reynolds Graves of Detroit, Mich., wanted to know why we didn't include John Podesta, who was the CoS during the final two years of the Clinton administration. The reason we omitted Podesta — as well as H.R. Haldeman (Nixon), Donald Regan (Reagan), Mack McLarty (Clinton) and others — is that the list only included chiefs of staff who ran for office, either before or after their White House tenure. Podesta never sought public office. In that vein, John Gizzi of Washington, D.C., wondered if we should add Kenneth O'Donnell (who served President Kennedy) to the list. John correctly points out that O'Donnell twice sought the Democratic nomination for governor of Massachusetts (in 1966 and 1970). But while O'Donnell was probably more closely involved in policy decisions than anyone in the administration whose last name was not Kennedy, he was never the "official" chief of staff.

LET SAIGONS BE SAIGONS: In referring to President Johnson's use of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution to wage war in Vietnam, I wrote in the March 16 column that the incident involved "an alleged attack on U.S. PT boats by North Vietnam." Jon Yuengling of West Norton, Pa., and James Crabtree of Austin, Texas, correctly pointed out that the North Vietnamese attackers were PT boats; the U.S. warships allegedly attacked were the Maddox and the Turner Joy, which were destroyers.

MORE JUNKIE MAIL: My apology in the March 29 column for an attempt at sarcasm/humor regarding the "liberal media" was not necessary, said a few e-mailers. Janet Pickel writes, "Maybe I see sarcasm readily because I employ it so frequently myself, but I got it. I think most of us got it. It was funny, not lame." And Kevin Swaney added, "For what it's worth, I got your comment about Democrats and the media being one and the same. It seems as if all too many people out there just have no sense of humor."

But Jeffrey Lawrence is off base when he huffs and puffs, "Your characterization of Democrats as the party of no ideas is offensive and erroneous." I specifically wrote in the March 23 column that I thought such a characterization was unfair.

Finally, regarding the feature in the March 23 column about how an apparent Heimlich maneuver between would-be rivals could affect a Maryland state legislative race, we got this note from Carol Spizzirri, the president and founder of the Save A Life Foundation: "I appreciate the PR on the maneuver. The more this is aired, the more people will want to learn about it." Carol tells us that Illinois state Senate President Emil Jones (D), the spokesman for the organization, "saved three lives in four years with Heimlich. Dr. Henry Heimlich, who is 87 years old, is on my medical board, and he is grateful — as I am — that his maneuver saved even one life. P.S. You might be interested to know that Heimlich's son Phil is a Hamilton County (Ohio) commissioner and a former four-term city councilman from Cincinnati."

One footnote about that Maryland campaign between John Giannetti and Jim Rosapepe: the March 23 feature, as originally posted, picked up serious inaccuracies from other news sources and has since been thoroughly rewritten. Check the archive link elsewhere on this page for the update.

REMINDER: "Political Junkie" is featured every Wednesday on NPR's Talk of the Nation, a call-in program, at 2:40 p.m. Eastern.

This Day in Campaign History: Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis wins the Wisconsin Democratic primary, firmly placing himself as the clear frontrunner in his bid for his party's presidential nomination, and all but ending the hopes of the Rev. Jesse Jackson (April 5, 1988).

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: