Hastert's ouster: An unavoidable snowball or a cold day in hell?

One voice from the right says Republicans are plotting the speaker's departure -- but not until after the November election.

Published October 3, 2006 4:22PM (EDT)

Dennis Hastert may have no plans to step down as speaker of the House, but he doesn't have the last say on the question, either. He'll be forced to leave the speaker's office if Democrats take control of the House in November, and Republicans could choose to throw him out -- sooner or later -- even if they manage to hold onto the chamber after all.

Over at RedState, Erick Erickson is advocating the latter course -- and suggesting that it may already be in the works. In a post headlined "It's Time to Go," Erickson says that "people on Capitol Hill" are telling him that Republicans in Congress have "actively begun plotting to throw the speaker under the bus should the GOP somehow manage to keep control of Congress."

"Let's be clear," Erickson writes, "now is not the time to have a leadership struggle. We're five weeks from an election that isn't looking very good. But, should the GOP somehow be able to keep the House in Republican hands (and Lord I hope they can!), the speaker must go when the House returns."

Erickson's call for a coup appears to have less to do with holding Hastert accountable than it does with pushing turned-off conservative Christians to the polls by persuading them that better days are waiting on the other side of November. "Make no mistake, the timing of the Foley allegations were not designed to persuade swing voters to vote Democrat. The allegations were designed to suppress the GOP turnout," Erickson says. "We must not let the Democrats be successful at this. While we know the GOP is far from perfect and, under Denny Hastert's recent leadership, has been a disappointment, we know the Democrats would cut all funding from Iraq, unleash investigative hordes on the president, and block all tax reforms and social security reforms. Now is not the time to get comfortable with the notion of Speaker Pelosi. Now is the time to fight. Call your local GOP candidate. Walk neighborhoods and work phone banks. And then contribute cold hard cash to some good Republicans who need your help."

Erickson is selling the sizzle rather than the steak. Is it still possible that the GOP could come through with the red meat of resignation before November? Sure, but we aren't hearing on-the-record words from any high-profile GOP House members to suggest that things are moving in that direction just yet. The Chicago Tribune says that Hastert is facing a "snowball" that will be hard to stop, but it seems to be gathering size mostly outside the House chamber. A resignation call from Michael Reagan or the Washington Times is one thing. A resignation call from David Dreier or Roy Blunt would be quite another. And even if Tony Blankley might not have used the Times' editorial page to call for Hastert's departure without some kind of approval from elsewhere, we sure haven't heard anyone at the White House cut the legs out from under Hastert publicly yet, and certainly not in the way George W. Bush did when it was time to toss Trent Lott overboard four years ago.

What we're seeing instead are moderate GOP congressmen like Christopher Shays making conditional calls for resignations -- Republican leaders should go if they knew, if they should have done more, if they covered it up -- and some scattered off-the-record complaining from House members who don't want their names in print.

In the Hill today, an unidentified conservative member of the House all but accuses Hastert of lying when he claims that he doesnt remember hearing about the Foley problem from NRCC chairman Tom Reynolds. "I don't think I would have forgotten that conversation," the member says. "The speaker should have asked, 'What the hell is going on?'" If the member thinks Hastert should resign over the matter, however, he doesn't seem to have told the Hill as much.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

MORE FROM Alex Koppelman

By Tim Grieve

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

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