Just when Washington Republicans thought things could not get
much worse, they did.
The indictment Wednesday of House majority leader Tom DeLay of
Texas on a money-laundering conspiracy charge adds to a litany of
GOP woes that could consume the party for months. Even the easy
confirmation of John Roberts Thursday as chief justice could bring
only a short respite if President Bush's next Supreme Court
nomination, as early as Friday, triggers a political donnybrook.
But the legal troubles of Mr. DeLay, which have forced him out of
the House leadership for now, present more than just a challenge to
his own future. For Mr. Bush, the indictment takes his most skilled
legislative ally out of the game at a time when the president was
already struggling to enact an ambitious second-term agenda and
overcome criticism over the war in Iraq, the federal response to
hurricanes, high gas prices, and a soaring deficit.
DeLay could be acquitted, of course, bolstering his claim that he
is the victim of an aggressively partisan Texas prosecutor. If he
gets the speedy trial his lawyers seek, and convinces a jury he is
not guilty of the single charge he faces, his legal troubles could
be cleared up in a matter of months, well before he faces voters
again in 2006. Some Republicans are skeptical, though, that DeLay's
legal process could have a cleansing effect.
"I have to tell you ... the press is not sympathetic to our party
and will therefore be less willing to let this go," says Rep. Tom
Tancredo (R) of Colorado. "We'll be dealing with this for a long
Indeed, even if DeLay is acquitted, that will not expunge his
record of admonishments by the House Ethics Committee for his
actions as a fundraiser and enforcer of political loyalty. Democrats
have tried to demonize DeLay for years.
Now, he faces a charge that he conspired with two aides to
violate a Texas law that bars the use of corporate money to fund
candidates for state office. The money was allegedly funneled to
Texas via the Republican National Committee.
Public perceptions of corruption in Washington raise memories of
the 1994 electoral tsunami that swept the Democrats out of power in
Congress. For the 2005 Republicans, DeLay's problems are just the
latest piece of bad news: Senate majority leader Bill Frist of
Tennessee is under federal investigation over a stock sale. The Bush
administration's top federal procurement official, David Safavian,
was arrested this month and accused of obstructing a criminal
investigation into GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff - who also has ties to
DeLay. And a cloud still hangs over top Bush aides in a probe into
the leak of a CIA agent's identity.
Are Republicans worried they could face the same fate as the
Democrats of 1994? "We'd be whistling past the graveyard to think
this won't be a problem for us," says Mr. …