Magazine article Newsweek

'The Hammer' Strikes: As 'King of the Hill,' House GOP Leader Tom DeLay Could Be Bush's Best Friend-Or His Worst Nightmare

Magazine article Newsweek

'The Hammer' Strikes: As 'King of the Hill,' House GOP Leader Tom DeLay Could Be Bush's Best Friend-Or His Worst Nightmare

Article excerpt

Byline: Howard Fineman

George W. Bush is calling Rep. Tom DeLay of Houston more often these days. When he does, he praises the power of DeLay's political machine, which this year featured a get-out-the-vote drive called STOMP that helped win crucial House races for the Republicans. "The president knew we had a ground war going," DeLay told NEWSWEEK. "We kind of congratulated each other." New York media bosses are calling more often to pay homage to the House majority whip. "The culture of the media is changing," he says. "We're trying to get to know each other." Last week Senate GOP leader Trent Lott was especially eager to get in touch. Moderate Republicans were threatening to derail the homeland-security bill over some special-interest amendments that had been slipped in at the last minute. Lott's compromise: to promise to remove the three worst of them next year. To make that stick, he knew, he had to get approval from House Speaker Dennis Hastert and, more important, DeLay. "We agreed to revisit the three provisions," DeLay told NEWSWEEK--slippery language, but just enough to get the deal done.

All of Washington knows DeLay as "The Hammer." But when the Congress returns in January, he will become an entire toolbox--and one that the president will have to handle with care. As the new majority leader (Dick Armey retired), DeLay will control the flow of legislation and committee assignments in the one chamber--the House--that can actually be controlled. (Running the Senate, says Lott, is like trying to haul bullfrogs in a wheelbarrow.) DeLay's former lieutenants (including Hastert) control all key positions, and won all elections last week for new leadership slots. A staunch conservative with an unrivaled, ever-evolving fund-raising machine, DeLay may be the opponent that focuses the mind of confused and rudderless Democrats. He can also be Bush's best friend--guarding the president's right flank, playing the tough legislative cop (think of a domestic Donald Rumsfeld) and blessing final deals. …

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