Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Rep. Tom DeLay, accused by some fellow conservatives of leading a congressional spending binge and under indictment by two grand juries on charges of campaign-finance violations in Texas, attempted yesterday to shore up his image on the right.

The former House majority leader made a surprise appearance at the so-called Wednesday Group, a regular off-the-record strategy session of about 150 representatives from conservative interest groups.

“So, what kind of month have you had?” the Texas Republican deadpanned in his opening remarks to the meeting, hosted by Grover Norquist, president of Americans For Tax Reform.

The remark drew sympathetic laughter from the activists. Only yesterday, a Texas court issued a warrant ordering him to appear at a Fort Bend County jail for booking on state charges of conspiracy and money laundering. He could be made to endure the humiliation of being fingerprinted and photographed.

Earlier this month, he was indicted by two different grand juries in Texas, was forced to step down, at least temporarily, from his post as House majority leader and was hit with critical comments by conservatives and Republican leaders who once championed him.

Mr. DeLay appeared unbowed by his tribulations as he sought support for the legislative reform agenda that he helped create and that Republicans will try to get passed in the House.

“You are about to see that old class-warfare debate between Republicans and Democrats that we all enjoy,” he said at the morning meeting, also attended by emissaries from the offices of both Republican Senate and House leaders and of various executive branch departments and agencies as well as the White House. “I want to have that debate, and we’re going to have it for the next several weeks.

“The problem is we have only 232 Republicans in the House.” he added. “We will get no votes from the Democrats and will have to carry this load by ourselves.”

He also said he expected no help from the Senate, but thinks House passage would pressure the Senate to agree to at least some of the House goals.

“DeLay’s goal was to take the focus away from his current legal entanglements and try to refocus the Wednesday Group on the tax and spending work that he has been leading in the House,” said Dick Patten, executive director of the American Family Business Institute, who attended the meeting.

Mr. DeLay told Wednesday Group participants that he needed their help in persuading fellow lawmakers to go along with his proposal for greatly enhanced border security. He also said he has been trying to enforce fiscal discipline in Congress since first coming to Washington. At the end, the Texan received a standing ovation.

Later yesterday, at a meeting of Republican lawmakers who belong to the conservative House Republican Study Committee, Mr. DeLay warned committee members that it would be a waste of time to try to get the Senate to agree to the full panoply of fiscal reforms favored by House conservatives.

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