In Blow to GOP Discipline, 'The Hammer' Falls
by Jim Lobe
a year of dismissing as "politically motivated" charges
that he had repeatedly violated Congressional ethics rules, the
troubles of Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay dramatically escalated
Wednesday when he was forced to temporarily resign his post after
being indicted by a Texas grand jury for his role in helping the
Republican Party win control of that state's legislature in the
single most powerful Republican in Congress, DeLay, who will not
have to give up his seat, denied all wrongdoing, but announced that
he will "temporarily step aside" from his leadership post
pursuant to a rule adopted by Republican members of the House of
Representatives that he had unsuccessfully tried to repeal last
year, presumably in anticipation of his possible indictment.
indictment comes at a particularly vulnerable moment for Republicans
who are increasingly concerned about the declining popularity of
President George W. Bush, particularly in light of growing opposition
to the U.S. presence in Iraq and the poor performance of the federal
government during and after Hurricane Katrina.
party is also increasingly divided over a range of issues, especially
the administration's ambitious and expensive plans to rebuild New
Orleans. This, coupled with the continuing high costs of the Iraq
and Afghanistan wars, has moved prominent fiscal conservatives into
open revolt against the party's leadership.
indictment accuses DeLay of conspiring to violate Texas campaign
finance laws along with two associates, John Colyandro, former head
of a Texas political action committee formed by DeLay, and Jim Ellis,
who heads DeLay's national political committee.
am innocent," he said at a hastily arranged Capitol Hill press
conference. "I have done nothing wrong."
close ally of Bush, DeLay has been reprimanded three times by a
Congressional ethics committee more than any sitting member of
Congress and has also drawn intense scrutiny for his ties with
a high-flying lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, who is now under federal
majority leader, DeLay, whose nickname is "The Hammer,"
has played a key role in keeping the increasingly fractious Republicans
united and lined up squarely behind an increasingly defensive
White House. Most political observers have considered him the true
power in the House, even though House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who
was handpicked by DeLay for the post, actually outranks him.
in his post as Majority Leader, DeLay has clearly established himself
as the most powerful Republican leader in the United States, second
only to Bush himself and possibly Vice President Dick Cheney.
while never personally close to Bush or his family, DeLay has generally
deferred to the president and his chief political adviser, Karl
Rove, on policy issues and priorities, enforcing strict discipline
on hesitant or reluctant Republicans.
Bush has fostered the image of a "Toxic Texan" abroad,
then DeLay is virtually a caricature of that stereotype. For one
thing, has a truly toxic past, having run a pest extermination business
before entering Congress in 1985.
he still thinks all the talk about global warming, the ozone hole,
and even pesticides like DDT as hazardous to human and planetary
health is a lot of nonsense, "designed on computer models by
Bush, DeLay is a real Texas cowboy (although he learned how to rope
steers in rural Venezuela). Prominently displayed in his office
are two bull whips, which he likes to take down to show visitors
how he keeps the Republican Caucus in line since he was promoted
to the Majority Whip position in 1995 by former House Speaker Newt
adjective that most often comes up to describe DeLay, even among
some of his allies, is "mean." In addition to "The
Hammer," he has also been commonly referred to as "The
Exterminator." Both are nicknames that rarely fail to bring
a smile to his face, according to a 2003 profile by the Wall
many ways, DeLay, more than any other Republican leader, embodies
the Christian Right that has almost completely taken over the core
of the Republican Party since the 1980s reign of former president
Ronald Reagan. Pushing a conservative moral agenda at home, his
"Christian Zionism" has made him a favoured keynoter for
conventions of right-wing Jewish organisations, such as the Zionist
Organisation of American.
white, intense, angry and self-righteous at the same time, profoundly
anti-government in all things except national security, DeLay rarely
speaks at any length without inveighing against the "elite"
and the "privileged few who are determined to discredit and,
ultimately, replace core American traditions."
house is located on a golf course in Sugar Land, Texas. The surname
of the pastor of his local church, with whom he reportedly meets
often, is Rambo.
the 2000 elections, Republican spin-doctors asked DeLay to take
a very low profile, as Bush tried to depict himself as a moderate
in order to appeal to political independents.
Bush has shown his true colours, however, it has become clear that
the two men are ideologically compatible on issues ranging from
church-state relations and government regulation of business to
global warming, and the conduct of the "war on terrorism.".
has made clear that his worldview was formed early. His father,
a Texas oil wildcatter and chronic alcoholic who clearly did not
spare the rod on his children, took them to live in Venezuela when
DeLay was nine.
he said, he was exposed to his "first revolution" when
"revolutionaries" ransacked the homes of his friends,
the "caballeros," and massacred the people and animals
living there, causing "total chaos and complete destruction."
carried two great lessons home with me from Venezuela. In many ways,
they are the lessons of the 20th Century," he said three years
ago. "First, every human life is sacred and precious. Second,
power unconstrained by principle, unchecked by accountability is
an awful and evil force."
similar story explains his total opposition to relaxing the 44-year-old
U.S. trade embargo with Cuba. When he was 12, he says, the plane
on which he and his family were travelling from Venezuela to Texas
stopped for refuelling in Havana immediately after the 1959 revolution.
took my mother, my sister, my brother and myself out of the plane,
marched us down the tarmac between the stinking soldiers with big
guns and German shepherds, put us into a room for over three hours,"
he told a national television news programme. "We had no idea
what was happening to us," he added, "I'll never forget
has no doubts that "the United States has been the world's
greatest force for good," grounded in "the basic principles
that are at the root of our exceptionalism," which he lists
as "our faith in God, our belief in the sanctity of human life,
our acceptance of moral absolutes and our certainty that we are
ultimately accountable for our own actions."
retain that "exceptionalism," he has been a staunch foe
of global treaties and institutions, particularly the International
Criminal Court (ICC).
2003, he introduced the American Servicemembers Protection Act (ASPA),
which not only forbade Washington from co-operating with the Court,
but authorised the president to use military force to free any U.S.
soldier held by the ICC in The Hague or anywhere else.
Lobe [send him mail]
is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service