Blunt in, Dreier out and DeLay sticking around

Conservative Republicans find Dreier "too moderate," so Hammer-lite -- and the Hammer himself -- will mind the store in Tom DeLay's "absence."

Published September 29, 2005 12:53PM (EDT)

When it looked like California Rep. David Dreier would become the new House majority leader yesterday, the national organization for gay, lesbian and transgender Democrats spoke in code to suggest that religious conservatives might have an issue with him. Well, it turns out that Dreier was in fact going to become the new House majority leader and that his elevation did, in fact, come to a speedy stop because religious conservatives had an issue with him. Here's the question: Are they now speaking in code about what it is?

As we noted yesterday, Raw Story and the L.A. Weekly ran stories last year suggesting that Dreier may be gay. Could those stories have had something to do with the Republicans' decision to change course on naming Dreier as Tom DeLay's replacement? Of course not! As the Washington Post reports today, DeLay and House Speaker Dennis Hastert hatched a plan Tuesday to put Dreier in DeLay's spot as soon as DeLay's indictment was announced. But the Post says conservative Republicans in the House nixed the plan because they didn't like having it dictated to them -- and because Dreier was "too moderate" on stem cell research and gay marriage.

So Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt -- a protégé's of John Ashcroft and a man nobody would ever call "too moderate" -- will become House majority leader instead. Blunt's hard-right politics put him firmly in the Tom DeLay tradition, as do some of his practices as a legislator. In 2003, Blunt tried to insert an amendment on cigarette sales into legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security: At the time, he was dating a lobbyist -- a woman! -- for Philip Morris' parent company, and his son was working for Philip Morris as well. And as the Associated Press reports, Blunt's political action committee has paid approximately $88,000 to Jim Ellis -- the same Jim Ellis who was indicted along with DeLay yesterday.

For all that Blunt shares with DeLay, the Hammer didn't want Blunt to take his place precisely because the two men have something else in common: ambition. DeLay and Hastert hoped to insert a seat warmer in DeLay's seat so that it will be ready and waiting for him when he returns triumphantly from his adventure through the Texas criminal law system. They thought they could trust Dreier to step aside quietly when the time comes; they're not so sure about Blunt. But the thing is, DeLay isn't really leaving anyway. As the Washington Post reports, he may be giving up the title of House majority leader, but he's not vacating the majority leader's office in the U.S. Capitol.

By Tim Grieve

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

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