DeLay’s gone but GOP’s troubles continue

Republicans worried about their party’s future have succeeded in
pushing embattled former Majority Leader Tom DeLay off the stage. Even
so, the Republicans’ election-year troubles are far from over.

Need a reminder?

Bush, the titular head of the GOP, is waging an unpopular war in Iraq
and presiding over a nation with lingering economic anxieties. He
suffers from approval ratings around 40 percent _ near record lows for
his presidency. Questionable stock transactions by the top Republican
in the Senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, are under
investigation. A special prosecutor’s probe continues into whether Bush
administration officials outed a CIA operative in retribution for her
husband’s Iraq war criticism. A secret anti-terror program that Bush
approved to eavesdrop on people inside the United States without
warrants is raising concerns about overly broad presidential powers.

Potentially most damaging is an influence-peddling scandal on Capitol Hill.

week’s guilty pleas to corruption and tax evasion charges by the
central figure in the scandal, disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, are
anything but the last chapter. Abramoff is cooperating in a
wide-ranging investigation that could ensnare dozens of lawmakers with
close ties to the generous and powerful lobbyist, including DeLay and
House Administration Committee Chairman Bob Ney, R-Ohio.

Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University, called it a
“partywide crisis” that the GOP has problems with its leadership in all
three areas of the federal government that it controls.

removal of DeLay from the leadership doesn’t end their problems with
scandal and, more broadly, with running the House,” said Norm Ornstein
with the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “That’s their
challenge, is to begin to get their policy act together. And they’re
going to have to do it with just Republicans because Democrats are
going to be against them.”

Republican domination of Congress is
at stake in the November elections. Indeed, a new Associated
Press-Ipsos poll found that 49 percent of those surveyed said they
would prefer to see Democrats take control of Congress, compared with
36 percent who want a continued Republican majority.

With that in
mind, Saturday’s decision by DeLay to abandon his bid to resume his No.
2 post in the House was welcomed by Republicans.

The man
Democrats love to hate is battling campaign finance charges in Texas
that had forced him to step aside as majority leader. Maintaining his
innocence, he had said he intended to take his leadership position back
once cleared of the charges. DeLay changed his tune under pressure from
fellow Republicans that only grew as the Abramoff case mushroomed.

the White House, where aides had insisted for weeks that the famously
effective DeLay retained the president’s support, there was a sharp
pivot. “We respect Congressman DeLay’s decision to put the interests of
the American people, the House of Representatives and the Republican
Party first,” Bush spokeswoman Erin Healy said.

Democrats have made clear they plan to make GOP corruption a centerpiece campaign theme. They pounced.

DeLay bears much of the responsibility for the culture of corruption
Republicans have created in Washington, D.C., but his removal from
House leadership alone will not end the pervasive cronyism and
corruption that he and Washington Republicans created,” said Senate
Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

The anti-corruption tact
gives Democrats the opportunity to overcome bad fractures within their
party as well as their lack of a cohesive message. An AP-Ipsos poll
last month showed that 88 percent of Americans say that corruption
reaching into all levels of government is a serious problem.

had hoped to rescue both his and his party’s political fortunes by
turning a new page in 2006 and focusing on immigration reform, good
economic news and turning around public opinion on Iraq.

But I.
Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick
Cheney, is expected to stand trial in the CIA leak case this summer,
just ahead of the midterm elections. The special prosecutor’s inquiry
continues, leaving the fate of other senior White House officials,
notably Bush’s deputy chief of staff and political guru Karl Rove, in

And the election for a new House majority leader will
serve as a reminder of the GOP’s troubles right when Bush is unveiling
his election-year agenda. The House reconvenes the week of Jan. 30,
with the election likely to be held right away. Bush’s annual State of
the Union address is tentatively scheduled for that week.

Rep. Roy Blunt, the GOP whip who temporarily has filled in for DeLay
and is expected to run to permanently take his place, also could suffer
from his association with Abramoff. He was among many lawmakers who
refunded or gave to charity some or all of the donations they received
from Abramoff, his associates or clients.

Though House Speaker
Dennis Hastert’s position seems secure, some are calling for a wider
leadership shake up that would be messy and distracting. “The
conference needs the ability to reassess the leadership team as a
whole,” said Rep. Melissa Hart, R-Pa.


Jennifer Loven has reported from Washington for nine years. Associated
Press writer Douglass K. Daniel contributed to this analysis.

© 2006 The Associated Press