Can Tom DeLay hold on?

The Hammer seeks support from Senate Republicans, and a House colleague calls Christopher Shays a "jerk" for deserting their leader.

Published April 13, 2005 12:17PM (EDT)

Tom DeLay met with Republican senators Tuesday afternoon in an effort to reassure the faithful in advance of today's meeting of the House ethics committee. According to the report in this morning's Washington Post, the House majority leader had two bits of advice for Senate Republicans: Take a deep breath, and if anyone asks you about the charges against DeLay, blame the Democrats and their lack of an agenda.

"Be patient," DeLay said he told the senators. "We'll be fine."

He may well be right. Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut called for DeLay to resign over the weekend. But if Shays is some kind of opinion leader on the issue, it's hard to see who's following him. While Rep. Rob Simmons, a fellow Republican from Connecticut, says he's ready to make "tough decisions" about DeLay, we haven't heard any other House Republicans say publicly that they'd vote to dump their leader.

To the contrary, Republican members of Congress -- and DeLay's supporters on the far right -- have lashed out at Shays for taking a stand. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from California, told the Associated Press that the ethics allegations against DeLay might fade away "except you've got jerks like Chris Shays who get notoriety by being disloyal to their fellow Republicans." And no less of a moral authority than Rush Limbaugh piled on yesterday, saying: "It's going to take a lot more than you, Chris Shays, to get rid of someone who's decent and good and moral and upstanding and a fighter, and that's Tom DeLay."

That's the same Tom DeLay who was admonished three times last year by the House ethics committee, the same Tom DeLay whose wife and daughter were apparently paid $500,000 by political organizations he controlled, the same Tom DeLay who, the Wall Street Journal said, "rode to power in 1994 on a wave of revulsion at the everyday ways of big government" but "has become the living exemplar of some of its worst habits.''

Republican senators weren't exactly Limbaugh-esque in their love for DeLay as they left their meeting with him Tuesday, but they did voice something like support for the majority leader nonetheless. "Everyone seems to be looking for a smoking gun, and nobody has been shot," South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint told the Houston Chronicle. South Carolina's other senator, Republican Lindsey Graham, said he was confident that the House ethics committee will exonerate DeLay on ethics charges, but he said that DeLay's "unhealthy" rhetoric about the nation's judiciary "needs to be stopped."

The Chronicle says that DeLay is getting advice from Trent Lott, who was forced to resign as Senate majority leader in 2002 after he appeared to wax nostalgic about the days of segregation. Lott told the Chronicle that he has told DeLay to "keep your mouth shut and go about doing your job."

Lott says that he and DeLay have something in common: They're both victims of attacks based not on their own actions but on the political desires of others. "He's going through the same thing I went through," Lott told the Chronicle. "If you are a conservative Republican leader from the South ... strap it on, baby, because you are fixing to get it."

By Tim Grieve

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

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