President Bush needs House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to further his legislative agenda and should be more outspoken in his defense against ethics charges, Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said yesterday.
“I do think the White House needs to remember that people who fight hard for you as a candidate and for your issues as a president … deserve your support, aggressive support,” said Mr. Lott, who resigned his majority leadership post because of the furor over comments he made in 2002.
“Again, he may feel that he shouldn’t get into the details of the workings of who the leaders are or how the leaders act in the House or the Senate. I read very carefully what he had to say last week. … I wish it had been more, frankly. Frankly, he needs Tom DeLay,” Mr. Lott told ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos.
Mr. DeLay was admonished three times by the ethics committee last year, and new questions have arisen regarding overseas trips he has taken.
Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, has called for Mr. DeLay to step down as majority leader and Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, says Mr. DeLay should step aside while the charges are being investigated.
Mr. DeLay has denied any wrongdoing and joked about his situation during a speech to the National Rifle Association. “When a man’s in trouble or in a good fight, you want all your friends around them, preferably armed. So I feel really good,” he said Saturday night.
Mr. Lott stepped down from his leadership post after two weeks of criticism over comments he made Dec. 5, 2002, at Sen. Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday. If Mr. Thurmond had been elected president in 1948, “we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either,” Mr. Lott said. Mr. Thurmond campaigned as a segregationist “Dixiecrat” in 1948.
Mr. Stephanopoulos suggested Mr. Lott was not backed by Mr. Bush during his troubles, and asked, “If President Bush had backed you, do you think you’d still be leader today?”
“That was a problem of my own making,” Mr. Lott replied. “That’s the way things happen in this city. But it is another example how a mistaken phrase can get you into huge problems in this city. And then, if it gets off into pure politics, like Tom’s did when he tried to get redistricting in Texas, then you’re really in trouble and it works on both sides.”
Mr. DeLay supported efforts of Republican state legislators to redraw Texas’ congressional districts to correct what they said was an unfair Democratic advantage.
There is a tendency in Washington to “microanalyze every word, any inadvertent comment, and you need to be very, very careful,” Mr. Lott said.
“This is not something that just applies to Republicans. I think it’s unfortunate across the board, particularly on a personal and a human basis. … I think the president would tell anybody privately or publicly that Tom DeLay has been a strong leader, aggressive leader, and that he hopes he’ll stay in that leadership position,” Mr. Lott said.
Democrats yesterday said Mr. DeLay abused his leadership post. “It’s abuse of power in the House rules. It’s abuse of power in the ethics process. It’s abuse of power in threatening judges. It’s an abuse of power of threatening,” Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, told “Fox News Sunday.”
Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” Republicans are “drunk with power,” protecting Mr. DeLay and retaliating against the party’s own members for the ethic committee warnings.
“Tom DeLay is called ‘the Hammer.’ He loves it. He says his supporters should have arms, and he takes no prisoners. This attacks the integrity not just of Congress, but how we look with foreign countries,” Mr. Rangel said.
Key Republicans appearing on other Sunday political talk shows said Mr. DeLay is anxious to present his case to the House Standards of Official Conduct Committee, but Democrats are blocking the committee from officially organizing to protest rule changes.
“Tom DeLay has not been found in violation of any rule, regulation, statute at all,” David Dreier, California Republican and chairman of the House Rules Committee, told CBS. “He wants to be investigated. He wants to have a chance to clear his name by going before the House ethics committee, so that whatever question is out there can in fact be addressed.”
“It’s the Democratic leadership that has really decided to demonize Tom DeLay. It’s been a great sport in this town for a while,” Mr. Dreier said.