Republicans face 'partywide crisis'
Analysis: GOP Woes Don't End With DeLay
By JENNIFER LOVEN, Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Republicans worried about their party's future have succeeded in pushing embattled former Majority Leader Tom DeLay off the stage. Even so, the Republicans' election-year troubles are far from over.
Need a reminder?
President Bush, the titular head of the GOP, is waging an unpopular war in
Iraq and presiding over a nation with lingering economic anxieties. He suffers from approval ratings around 40 percent — near record lows for his presidency. Questionable stock transactions by the top Republican in the Senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, are under investigation. A special prosecutor's probe continues into whether Bush administration officials outed a
CIA operative in retribution for her husband's Iraq war criticism. A secret anti-terror program that Bush approved to eavesdrop on people inside the United States without warrants is raising concerns about overly broad presidential powers.
Potentially most damaging is an influence-peddling scandal on Capitol Hill.
Last week's guilty pleas to corruption and tax evasion charges by the central figure in the scandal, disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, are anything but the last chapter. Abramoff is cooperating in a wide-ranging investigation that could ensnare dozens of lawmakers with close ties to the generous and powerful lobbyist, including DeLay and House Administration Committee Chairman Bob Ney, R-Ohio.
Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University, called it a "partywide crisis" that the GOP has problems with its leadership in all three areas of the federal government that it controls.
"The removal of DeLay from the leadership doesn't end their problems with scandal and, more broadly, with running the House," said Norm Ornstein with the conservative American Enterprise Institute. "That's their challenge, is to begin to get their policy act together. And they're going to have to do it with just Republicans because Democrats are going to be against them."
Republican domination of Congress is at stake in the November elections. Indeed, a new Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that 49 percent of those surveyed said they would prefer to see Democrats take control of Congress, compared with 36 percent who want a continued Republican majority.
With that in mind, Saturday's decision by DeLay to abandon his bid to resume his No. 2 post in the House was welcomed by Republicans.
The man Democrats love to hate is battling campaign finance charges in Texas that had forced him to step aside as majority leader. Maintaining his innocence, he had said he intended to take his leadership position back once cleared of the charges. DeLay changed his tune under pressure from fellow Republicans that only grew as the Abramoff case mushroomed.
At the White House, where aides had insisted for weeks that the famously effective DeLay retained the president's support, there was a sharp pivot. "We respect Congressman DeLay's decision to put the interests of the American people, the House of Representatives and the Republican Party first," Bush spokeswoman Erin Healy said.
Democrats have made clear they plan to make GOP corruption a centerpiece campaign theme. They pounced.
"Tom DeLay bears much of the responsibility for the culture of corruption Republicans have created in Washington, D.C., but his removal from House leadership alone will not end the pervasive cronyism and corruption that he and Washington Republicans created," said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
The anti-corruption tact gives Democrats the opportunity to overcome bad fractures within their party as well as their lack of a cohesive message. An AP-Ipsos poll last month showed that 88 percent of Americans say that corruption reaching into all levels of government is a serious problem.
Bush had hoped to rescue both his and his party's political fortunes by turning a new page in 2006 and focusing on immigration reform, good economic news and turning around public opinion on Iraq.
But I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President
Dick Cheney, is expected to stand trial in the CIA leak case this summer, just ahead of the midterm elections. The special prosecutor's inquiry continues, leaving the fate of other senior White House officials, notably Bush's deputy chief of staff and political guru Karl Rove, in doubt.
And the election for a new House majority leader will serve as a reminder of the GOP's troubles right when Bush is unveiling his election-year agenda. The House reconvenes the week of Jan. 30, with the election likely to be held right away. Bush's annual State of the Union address is tentatively scheduled for that week.
Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt, the GOP whip who temporarily has filled in for DeLay and is expected to run to permanently take his place, also could suffer from his association with Abramoff. He was among many lawmakers who refunded or gave to charity some or all of the donations they received from Abramoff, his associates or clients.
Though House Speaker Dennis Hastert's position seems secure, some are calling for a wider leadership shake up that would be messy and distracting. "The conference needs the ability to reassess the leadership team as a whole," said Rep. Melissa Hart (news, bio, voting record), R-Pa.