A crack in DeLay's armor

Robert Novak's protestations notwithstanding, a Republican congressman says it's time for the House majority leader to resign.

Published April 11, 2005 1:12PM (EDT)

Robert Novak crows in today's column about congressional Republicans' united front in support of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. "Contrary to claims on leftist Web sites," Novak writes, "no Republican member has called for the majority leader's resignation."

The lesson you'd think Novak might have learned by now: Don't write your column until the game is over. As much as Novak must like his weekends off, he should have done a bit of touch-up on his Monday morning column before it went into print: On Sunday, Republican Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut called for DeLay's resignation.

"Tom's conduct is hurting the Republican Party, is hurting this Republican majority and it is hurting any Republican who is up for re-election," Shays told the Associated Press Sunday. "My party is going to have to decide whether we are going to continue to make excuses for Tom to the detriment of Republicans seeking election."

Lest there be any confusion, Shays' spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times that her boss meant exactly what he said: He's calling for DeLay's resignation.

As the Times reported, an aide to the House Republican leadership dismissed Shays' comments as political posturing by a member trying to hold on to a seat in a competitive district. "Chris Shays is watching his backside in a very tough district  he's the first person anyone would suspect who would distance himself from Tom DeLay, and the only one who has spoken on the record," the aide said.

Only that's not exactly true. Appearing on ABC's "This Week," Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum -- another Republican facing a re-election fight in 2006 -- said that DeLay needs to begin answering questions about the ethics charges against him. "I think he has to come forward and lay out what he did and why he did it and let the people then judge for themselves," said Santorum, who is the third-ranking Republican in the Senate. "But from everything I've heard, again, from the comments and responding to those, is everything he's done was according to the law."

Santorum acknowledged that people "may not like some of the things" DeLay has done, but said: "That's for the people of his district to decide, whether they want to approve that kind of behavior or not." Santorum may be free to take that position, but Republican in the House shouldn't be. While the voters in DeLay's Texas district put him in the House, House Republicans put him in power. They're the ones who chose DeLay as their leader, and they're the ones who are keeping him there.

As Republicans outside the House distance themselves from the Hammer -- both George W. Bush and Bill Frist separated themselves last week from DeLay's comments on the Schiavo case -- will Republicans inside the House join Shays in stepping away from the leader? Not if DeLay's conservative allies have their say: They're launching an aggressive campaign to paint attacks on DeLay as attacks on the religious right, and they'll circle around the leader next month at a high-profile, big-money "tribute" dinner in Washington.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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