The White House yesterday stepped up its defense of embattled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, dispatching political strategist Karl Rove to deride Democratic attacks as “drivel.”
“They’re just desperate,” Mr. Rove said of Democrats on CNN. “They’re not offering ideas in the debate, they’re not being constructive, and so some of their members are taking potshots at Tom DeLay.”
The broadside came in response to Republican complaints that President Bush has been too tepid in his defense of Mr. DeLay, the Texas Republican who is being accused by Democrats and the press of ethical lapses.
“I’m looking forward to working with Tom,” Mr. Bush told newspaper editors on Thursday. “He’s been a very effective leader. We’ve gotten a lot done in the legislature, and I’m convinced we’ll get more done in the legislature.”
Those remarks were critiqued on Sunday by Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican.
“I read very carefully what [Mr. Bush] had to say,” Mr. Lott said on ABC. “I wish it had been more, frankly.”
Mr. Lott resigned his position as Senate majority leader in 2002 amid criticism over his praise of Sen. Strom Thurmond, a former segregationist, at the South Carolina Republican’s 100th birthday party. The president helped fuel that uproar by publicly chiding Mr. Lott.
“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,” Mr. Lott said Sunday.
The president did not have any comment yesterday in support of his fellow Texan, but Mr. Rove went on television to defend Mr. DeLay.
“We strongly support Tom DeLay,” he told CNN from the White House North Lawn. “He’s a good man; he’s a close ally of this administration.
“He was down here last week, visiting with the president a couple of times,” he added. “Tom DeLay’s going to continue to be a strong and effective majority leader for the Republicans in the House.”
Mr. Rove criticized Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean for saying recently that his party would exploit Mr. DeLay’s support for Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman who died last month after her feeding tube was removed amid a bitter family dispute.
“This is going to be an issue in 2006, and it’s going to be an issue in 2008, because we’re going to have an ad, with a picture of Tom Delay, saying, ‘Do you want this guy to decide whether you die or not?’ “Mr. Dean said.
Yesterday, Mr. Rove returned fire.
“I’m sorry that the Democratic Party has been reduced to this kind of drivel,” he said. “If you don’t have ideas, if you’re not articulating a vision for America, if you’re doing nothing but obstructing as Dean and others in his party seem to be intent upon doing, I guess you’re stuck doing this kind of thing.”
Meanwhile, the DeLay campaign has counterattacked against the congressman’s critics in a letter mailed to his supporters.
“Democrats have made clear that their only agenda is the politics of personal destruction, and the criminalization of politics,” the DeLay campaign wrote in a letter obtained yesterday by the Associated Press.
Along with a point-by-point rebuttal of each accusation against Mr. DeLay, the AP reported, the letter summarizes the Texan’s defense in simple terms: “Tom DeLay does not stand accused of any violation of any law or rule in any forum and has never been found to have violated any law or rule by anyone.”
Some Democrats and the press have criticized Mr. DeLay for hiring his wife and daughter to help run his political campaigns. Yesterday, Mr. Rove said he suspected “partisan reasons” were behind such attacks.
“Think about it: They’re attacking him for having his wife and daughter on the campaign payroll,” he said. “Many Democrats have relied upon their family members to help campaign for them and serve as members of their staff.”
As for other complaints against Mr. DeLay, including those arising from overseas trips he has taken, Mr. Rove said they will be adjudicated by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.
“I’m very confident that this issue’s going to be resolved to everybody’s satisfaction — well, to Tom DeLay’s satisfaction and those of the Republicans,” he said.
Although the White House values Mr. DeLay for his ability to shepherd conservative legislation through the House, he and the president have never been particularly close.
In 1999, when he was running for president, Mr. Bush said Republicans in Congress should not “balance their budget on the backs of the poor.”
Mr. DeLay replied: “It’s obvious Mr. Bush needs a little education on how Congress works.”