"I see fear in his eyes"
It starts out:
The continuing legal and ethical woes of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, have produced a palpable foreboding -- plus some drawing of the knives -- among House Republicans. Even as they bask in their recent election success and prepare for possibly far-reaching domestic policy changes during President Bush's second term, House Republicans are shadowed by the many questions surrounding their majority leader. Of greatest concern, though hardly the only problem, is the continuing criminal investigation in Texas that resulted in the September indictments of three of DeLay's close associates.
Even DeLay's most devoted allies concede that they cannot be confident about how these dilemmas will unfold and whether DeLay will avoid significant fallout from the criminal inquiry. Nor can anyone -- including DeLay's most implacable enemies -- predict with assurance the immediate consequences if he is indicted or faces other sanctions.
Regardless, a cloud is hanging over Tom DeLay. Although he has been the most powerful keeper of the conservative faith during the past decade of House GOP control, he faces growing unhappiness and impatience among some of his Republican colleagues.
Some GOP sources are beginning to express grave doubts:
There are those within the House Republican ranks who think that it's already too late for DeLay, that he has lost control of events. "I believe that there will be a dramatic conclusion [for DeLay] sometime in the next two years," said the top aide to a senior House Republican.
Another veteran House Republican aide, when asked what will happen to DeLay if he is indicted, replied: "There will be a firestorm, and he'll be out."
Here is a money quote. I would love to know who said it.
"I see fear in his eyes," said a senior House Republican lawmaker. Others contend that the usually combative DeLay has appeared weary in recent weeks. DeLay's chief of staff, Tim Berry, has told other House GOP aides that he spends much of his time consulting with lawyers. Even DeLay's stalwart defenders concede that he has been distracted by the problems swirling around him -- and they acknowledge that this distraction could affect legislative activity.
"Tom DeLay is a wonderful leader, with great enthusiasm and vigor, who is the architect of the conservative agenda," said Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas. But "nobody likes to have your halfback with a bad arm or knee." Asked whether he worries about the potential fallout for the agenda set by Bush and congressional Republicans, Sessions replied, "Sure.... There is uncertainty."
As the No. 2 leader in the House, DeLay has some cover. His challenge now is to make sure that he doesn't become "the story" outside the Beltway, a situation that could create headaches for his colleagues when they return to their districts.
"Tom and his staff need to worry about the possibility that members will be hearing about his problems when they are at home," [former Gingich chief of staff Dan] Meyer said. "He has to be aggressive in his attack, with a strategy that works. That can be difficult to do." Biggs noted, "When members feel the heat back home, they feel the need to protect the link to their constituents."
DeLay, however, deliberately reduced his public appearances across the nation, limiting the Democrats' ability to make their charges stick. And the election results showed that he apparently has not yet become an albatross for his party.
"All the slings and arrows of the ethics charges were washed away by the election results," a source close to DeLay said. "Members are grateful for his support to the party and his performance as majority leader in moving the agenda." The ally added, "DeLay won't stand still.
He will outmaneuver the critics."
For their part, House Democrats recently have toned down their drumbeat against the majority leader. "We have tried to demonize DeLay, but the reality is that the Republicans are savvy in operating behind the scenes," said a House Democratic aide. "We need to let DeLay be DeLay, and we should worry about our activities as the opposition party in focusing on everything that the Republicans do."
Preparing for the worst:
Although DeLay's defenders contend that he is in no jeopardy, they have moved on a number of fronts to prepare for a possible worst-case scenario. Several of their actions have been clandestine, and have come with little warning to other House Republicans. According to well-placed GOP sources, even Hastert appeared to have been blindsided -- and at least initially unhappy -- about DeLay's stealth maneuver in mid-November to rewrite the House
Republican Conference rule...
Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and other opponents said that between 30 and 40 Republicans opposed the change during the voice vote. The rules change is "a step in the wrong direction" from the standard that Republicans set when they captured the House majority a decade ago, Shays said. The Daily DeLay Weblog, maintained by the Public Campaign Action Fund, a liberal group, has identified 23 House GOP members who have asserted that they opposed the new rule.
[Some GOP sources] contend that DeLay and his allies made what one veteran aide termed "colossal" misjudgments by pressing the issue last month. Insisting on anonymity -- in part, because of the continuing fear of crossing DeLay -- these sources contend that DeLay has now exhausted his one "vote of confidence" from members. As another well-placed aide said, "DeLay has used his last arrow."
A telltale sign that the DeLay team is preparing for a sustained public-relations battle came when his communications director, Stuart Roy, announced this month that he will be departing Capitol Hill to join the Washington office of the DCI Group, a corporate public-affairs firm with a
grassroots focus. In an interview, Roy said that he expects to remain "heavily involved in DeLay's political operations," though final details have not been settled.