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The Joys of Art

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Any More Takers?

By DAVID ESPO, AP Special Correspondent
21 minutes ago

WASHINGTON - Succumbing to scandal, former Majority Leader Tom Delay intends to resign from Congress within weeks, closing out a career that blended unflinching conservatism with a bare-knuckled political style.

Republican officials said Monday night they expect the Texan to quit his seat later this spring. He was first elected in 1984, and conceded he faced a difficult race for re-election.

"He has served our nation with integrity and honor," said Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, who succeeded DeLay in his leadership post earlier this year.

But Democrats said the developments marked more than the end to one man's career in Congress.

" Tom DeLay's decision to leave Congress is just the latest piece of evidence that the Republican Party is a party in disarray, a party out of ideas and out of energy," said Bill Burton, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

A formal announcement of DeLay's plans was expected Tuesday at a news conference in Houston.

DeLay is under indictment in Texas as part of an investigation into the allegedly illegal use of funds for state legislative races.

Separately, the Texan's ties with lobbyist Jack Abramoff caused him to formally surrender his post as majority leader in January, within days after the lobbyist entered into a plea bargain as part of a federal congressional corruption probe.

More recently, former DeLay aide Tony Rudy said he had conspired with Abramoff and others to corrupt public officials, and he promised to help the broad federal investigation of bribery and lobbying fraud that already has resulted in three convictions.

Neither Rudy, Abramoff nor anyone else connected with the investigation has publicly accused DeLay of breaking the law, but Rudy confessed that he had taken actions while working in the majority leader's office that were illegal.

DeLay has consistently denied all wrongdoing, and he capped a triumph in a contested GOP primary earlier this year with a vow to win re-election.

In an interview Monday with The Galveston County Daily News in Texas, DeLay said his change of mind was based partly on a poll taken after the March Republican primary that showed him only narrowly ahead of Democrat Nick Lampson.

"Even though I thought I could win, it was a little too risky," the paper quoted him as saying.

In a separate interview with Time Magazine, DeLay says he plans to make his Virginia condominium his primary residence, a step that will disqualify him from the ballot in Texas and permit GOP officials there to field a replacement candidate. "I can do more on the outside of the House than I can on the inside right now. I want to continue to fight for the conservative cause. I want to continue to work for a Republican majority," DeLay told the magazine for its online edition.

It was not clear Monday night whether Texas Gov. Rick Perry would call a special election to fill out the unexpired portion of DeLay's term, or whether the seat would remain vacant until it is filled in November.

Either way, DeLay's concern about the potential loss of a Houston-area seat long in Republican hands reflected a deeper worry among GOP strategists. After a dozen years in the majority, they face a strong challenge from Democrats this fall, at a time when President Bush's public support is sagging, and when the Abramoff scandal has helped send congressional approval ratings tumbling.

Until scandal sent him to the sidelines, DeLay had held leadership posts since the Republicans won control of the House in a 1994 landslide. At first, he had to muscle his way to the table, defeating then-Speaker Newt Gingrich's handpicked candidate to become whip.

But DeLay quickly established himself as a forceful presence — earning a nickname as "The Hammer" — and he easily became majority leader when the spot opened up.

He sat at the nexus of legislation, lobbying, political campaigns and money.

And while he was a conservative, he raised millions of dollars for the campaigns of fellow House Republicans regardless of their ideology, earning their gratitude in the process.

He supported tax cuts, limits on abortions, looser government regulation of business and other items on the conservative agenda, and he rarely backed down.

DeLay was the driving force behind President Clinton's impeachment in 1999, weeks after Republicans lost seats at the polls in a campaign in which they tried to make an issue of Clinton's personal behavior.

His trademark aggressiveness helped trigger his downfall, when he led a drive to redraw Texas' congressional district boundaries to increase the number of seats in GOP hands.

The gambit succeeded, but DeLay was soon caught up in an investigation involving the use of corporate funds in the campaigns of legislators who had participated in the redistricting.

He attacked prosecutor Ronnie Earle as an "unabashed partisan zealot," and said numerous times he hoped to clear himself of the charges quickly and renew his claim to the majority leader's office.

The trial has yet to begin.

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