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House GOP Looks to January's Leadership Vote

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Indicted Congressman Tom DeLay remains ineligible for now to reclaim his post as House majority leader. Since DeLay was forced to relinquish his position, some House Republicans have complained that the party has lost its way. And now there's talk of electing a completely new GOP leadership team. NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports.

ANDREA SEABROOK reporting:

Acting House Majority Leader Roy Blunt held a not-for-broadcast press conference yesterday, in which he praised the speed of the Texas legal system and said there's still a fair chance DeLay could be exonerated. DeLay's lawyers have charged the district attorney, Democrat Ronnie Earle, with misconduct, and the judge has yet to rule on that. Other Republicans, who are loyal to DeLay, are even more optimistic. South Carolina's Joe Wilson said he's confident Tom DeLay will be vindicated.

Representative JOE WILSON (Republican, South Carolina): I have great faith in Tom DeLay. There has been a political victimization of him, a politics of personal destruction. This is not good for the United States.

SEABROOK: But other House Republicans are not so sure of DeLay's ability to brush off the indictments for money laundering and criminal conspiracy that the Texas judge upheld. Arizona's Jeff Flake predicted big changes in the coming months.

Representative JEFF FLAKE (Republican, Arizona): My understanding is that it's unlikely that--in the short term at least, that the majority leader will be able to come back to his post. And so it seems to make sense to me that we have a leadership elected. I would think that those who are currently in positions of leadership would want to be assured of the conference's support as we move ahead, particularly--it's going to be a tough midterm election.

SEABROOK: Many congressional Republicans already see that election looming outside the windshield, and some wish they could hit the brakes. Debate over the war in Iraq, unpopular cuts in social programs and party in-fighting have left the GOP with less than a unified image. And they continue to be dogged by other legal and ethical charges. Randy "Duke" Cunningham admitted to accepting bribes from defense contractors and resigned his House seat. In the Senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist is under investigation by the SEC for a questionable stock sale. And in the White House, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff resigned after being indicted for his role in the outing of an undercover CIA agent.

These problems have left Republicans politically vulnerable, and Democrats say they don't deserve to lead the House anymore. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said yesterday it's not about partisanship but cleaning up the House.

Representative STENY HOYER (Democrat, Maryland; Minority Whip): Whether it's a Republican or a Democrat, we need to assure the fact that the people's business is being done in an honest, ethical way. We believe that's not occurring in Washington. We believe that the Abramoff culture of corruption that has affected this institution is one that the American people are going to want to replace.

SEABROOK: Tom DeLay, meanwhile, has his own election to worry about. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll shows that only 36 percent of voters in his district support him, while 49 percent say they'd vote for a Democratic challenger. Vice President Dick Cheney appeared at a fund-raiser for DeLay Monday night in Houston, though it's not clear the Bush administration's pull with voters is much better than DeLay's. And there's still the possibility DeLay could get further entangled in the investigation of indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, once a good friend and close associate of DeLay. Investigators at the Justice Department are pursuing that case, and a former press secretary of DeLay's has already pleaded guilty. Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrea Seabrook
Andrea Seabrook covers Capitol Hill as NPR's Congressional Correspondent.
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