House GOP lacks agenda, DeLay says

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Departing Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas said yesterday that House Republicans have no vision or agenda and have let the Democrats choose the GOP leadership.

“We don’t have an agreed agenda — breaking up our leadership has taken its toll,” Mr. DeLay told a small group of reporters invited to his offices in the Cannon House Office Building.

The interview came only hours after Mr. DeLay had announced in Houston that he would resign his House seat in the coming weeks, giving his party time to name someone else to stand for election from the conservative 22nd District of Texas.

The House GOP leadership “breakup” he spoke of began when he relinquished his House majority leader’s post in September after a local Democratic prosecutor won a grand jury indictment against him on campaign-finance charges. Some of his former aides and associates have been indicted or convicted on various charges, and Democrats have painted Mr. DeLay as the leader of the Republican “culture of corruption” they say they’re campaigning against.

“The only reason I was indicted [was] the stupid rule that allows the Democrats to pick the Republican leadership,” Mr. DeLay said.

He was referring to a party rule requiring that any Republican indicted for a crime give up his leadership post. Mr. DeLay has contended that is why the Democrats, who have no such rule, persuaded Ronnie Earle to seek a grand jury indictment of Mr. DeLay and keep seeking it until he got one.

Mr. DeLay maintains his innocence and told friends and supporters in Houston yesterday that he will formally resign this spring, in large part so that Democrats won’t be able to “steal” one more House seat in a critical midterm elections.

“Because I care so deeply about this district and the people in it, I refuse to allow liberal Democrats an opportunity to steal this seat with a negative, personal campaign,” he said. “As difficult as this decision has been for me, it’s not going to be a great day for liberal Democrats, either. My loyalty to the Republican Party — indeed, my love for the Republican Party — has played no small part in this decision.”

Mr. DeLay called President Bush on Monday, and they spoke while the president was flying back from Cincinnati, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday.

“The president wishes Congressman DeLay all the best. He appreciates his service and thanks him for his service to the nation,” Mr. McClellan said.

When asked whether Mr. Bush regrets the decision by his key political ally, Mr. McClellan said, “The president respects his decision. This was a decision that Congressman DeLay made.”

Democrats said his resignation is just the tip of the iceberg, however, and they’ll continue to hammer away at corruption issues.

“Mr. DeLay’s departure from Congress is one piece of the changes needed to end the Republican culture of corruption,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. “We need a new direction that returns the people’s house to the American people.”

Republican colleagues praised both Mr. DeLay’s aggressive, effective leadership style and his decision to step aside for the good of the party.

“His leadership helped take our Republican conference and, as a result, our nation in a new direction, and I am confident that Tom’s legacy as one of the most effective Republican leaders in a generation is assured,” said Majority Whip Roy Blunt, the Missouri Republican who briefly served as leader when Mr. DeLay stepped aside.

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