Wednesday, June 7, 2006

The phrase “This could be the day” holds spiritual meaning for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, but it also can be seen as a metaphor for the Texas Republican’s legacy as he exits Congress tomorrow.

Mr. DeLay found the Bible study phrase so profound that he had it carved in wood so he could reflect on it from his Capitol Hill office.

“This could be the day that the Lord could return, or this could be the day that you die, and so you had better have your act together,” the 22-year House veteran told The Washington Times. “I just couldn’t get it out of my mind.”

Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri said his friend will be remembered for his governing style and dedication to personal faith.

“He felt life is short, and you have an obligation to God to get things done,” Mr. Blunt said.

Mr. DeLay, 59, ceded his leadership post in September, when he was indicted by a Texas grand jury on money-laundering charges. In April, he announced that he wouldn’t seek re-election to his House seat after a long legislative career marked with both success and scandal.

Among his crowning achievements were welfare reform, a deal on a balanced budget and “the impeachment of Clinton,” Mr. DeLay said, smiling.

Rep. Pete Sessions, Texas Republican, said Mr. DeLay was more than just the majority leader — he led the conservative movement.

But Mr. DeLay, nicknamed the “Hammer” for his aggressive tactics, also became the poster boy for the Democrats, who this year are running against what they call a “culture of corruption” in Washington.

“Tom DeLay leaves as probably one of the most corrupt leaders in the history of the Congress,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

The Texas probe is just one challenge facing Mr. DeLay. Officials also are examining his ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Mr. DeLay’s former deputy chief of staff has pleaded guilty as part of the Abramoff corruption investigation.

The House ethics panel announced last month that it would have investigated Mr. DeLay had he not stepped down.

As he prepares to leave, Mr. DeLay’s colleagues praised his leadership methods and called him a reasonable, compassionate and dynamic gentleman.

“The zeal of the Democratic Party in going after him really is a compliment to his effectiveness as a leader,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican.

Mr. DeLay said this week that Republicans will keep their majority in November so long as they remember their conservatism. Still, he is “a little bit” worried because it is “one of the toughest” years he has seen.

“If we just stand on principle and our members talk about the future of where we want to take this country, I think we’ll be fine,” he said. “But it’s going to be hard.”

Many called him a true conservative who helped build the party and is stepping aside for the greater Republican good.

“Tom DeLay was faithful even when he saw he was the element that could potentially get our party into trouble,” Mr. Sessions said.

Democrats see it differently.

Mr. DeLay’s legacy is one of divisiveness and “bludgeoning the private sector into supporting the party in power or being ignored no matter what their interests are, a legacy of using government power against his enemies,” said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland.

Mr. DeLay’s Texas allies echo his belief that he will be exonerated of all charges, which many Republicans say are politically motivated.

To keep winning, Mr. DeLay said, Republicans should fight for conservative principles, such as an immigration bill focused on border security and enforcement, but devoid of the Senate-passed “path to citizenship” provision.

“It’s either that or nothing,” he said. “If the House will stand strong, they’ll get a good bill.”

Mr. DeLay hasn’t specified his career plans, but he is expected to stay in the region. Staffers said he will help Republican campaigns in the fall.

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