Tuesday, April 26, 2005

President Bush will travel on Air Force One today with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a public show of support for the Texas Republican whom Democrats are accusing of ethics violations.

“Yes, he is planning to return with us,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who was with the president in Waco, Texas.

“We typically invite members to fly with the president when going to an event or returning from one in their area,” Mr. McClellan told The Washington Times.

Mr. DeLay, who lives in the Houston area, will participate in a Social Security reform event with Mr. Bush in Galveston, Texas, today and fly back to Washington on Air Force One.

Other Texas lawmakers joining the president are Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Ron Paul, whose district borders Mr. DeLay’s and includes Galveston.

“We are glad to have Leader DeLay flying back with us from Galveston,” Mr. McClellan said. “He, like other congressional leaders, is someone the president works closely with to accomplish our shared priorities.”

The trip, however, is seen by many as a clear message to Republicans on Capitol Hill that Mr. Bush is standing firmly behind the House majority leader and is responding to a chorus of requests that he get behind Mr. DeLay more publicly.

In press coverage of today’s events, the president inevitably will appear in photographs and video clips with Mr. DeLay and, if typical form holds, Mr. Bush will shower him with compliments in his opening remarks.

“The majority leader looks forward to being on hand at the event in Galveston and then traveling back with the president,” DeLay spokesman Dan Allen said.

Mr. DeLay has been accused of letting lobbyists illegally pay for several overseas trips, including a golf trip to Scotland to play at St. Andrew’s. Mr. DeLay has denied any wrongdoing, and says Democrats are targeting him because they cannot defeat the Republicans’ agenda.

“I know I have been watched and investigated probably more than even Bill Clinton,” he told The Times two weeks ago. “They can’t find anything, so they’re going back to my childhood, going to my family, going to things that happened eight years ago. There’s nothing there.”

Few high-profile Republicans have staunchly defended Mr. DeLay in public, leaving him to fight the accusations virtually alone as they became a political distraction.

The high-profile exceptions include House Chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia; Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, a former Senate majority leader; and senior White House adviser Karl Rove.

“They are just desperate,” Mr. Rove told CNN’s “Inside Politics” last week. “We strongly support Tom DeLay. He’s a good man, a close ally of this administration.”

Even after Mr. Rove’s comments, many conservatives and DeLay confidants in Congress complained privately that the White House seemed to be keeping the Texan at arm’s length lest the scandals deepen.

Mr. Bush, asked earlier this month about the furor surrounding Mr. DeLay, said he was “looking forward to working with Tom.”

“He’s been a very effective leader,” Mr. Bush said. “We’ve gotten a lot done in the legislature, and I’m convinced we’ll get more done in the legislature.”

Mr. Lott was not impressed by that particular vote of confidence.

“I with it had been more, frankly,” Mr. Lott told ABC’s “This Week.” “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 knows how important that support — or its absence — can be to one’s political career.

He created his own political furor by praising the 1948 segregationist presidential candidacy of Strom Thurmond, later a U.S. senator from South Carolina, at his 100th birthday party in December 2002. Mr. Lott lost his Senate leadership post one week after Mr. Bush took a public stand against Mr. Lott’s words that included naming the Mississippi senator.

Joseph Curl reported from Waco, Texas. Stephen Dinan also contributed to this report from Washington.

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