Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Never a Texas Two-Step

DeLay and Bush golfed in 2002. WILLIAM PHILPOTT / REUTERS

So here's a continuation of The Tom DeLay Comedy Hour! I've known this article was on the Time website, but I haven't gotten around to commenting on it. Now is as good a time as ever. From Time.com:

When legal and ethical questions began spinning around House majority leader Tom DeLay last year, President George W. Bush was publicly supportive. Privately, though, he questioned his fellow Texan's mojo. Bush had scored 10 points higher than DeLay in the Representative's district in 2004, and that was only after Bush had recorded a telephone message to help rally local Republicans. "I can't believe I had to do robocalls for him," the President said bitingly to an Oval Office visitor.

To people who know Bush well, the remark said it all about the longtime chill between the two pols, a distance that is only sure to grow with former lobbyist Jack Abramoff's guilty plea. Both camps describe the two conservative Texan's relationship as professional--an alliance, not a friendship. "DeLay admires Bush's leadership but still thinks of himself as the strongest conservative on the block," a DeLay friend says. "They perceive DeLay as a bull in a china shop. They appreciate him as their protector and retriever." Like many of his colleagues on Capitol Hill, DeLay suffers under what officials call this Administration's general lack of respect for Congress. But he is also in the unique position of being the most prominent modern Republican politician in Texas to rise without the help of White House senior adviser Karl Rove, and the two have never been close. "Karl thinks of him as someone a little bit too opinionated for his own good," says an official close to both men. "And DeLay thinks of Karl as a former mail vendor, not some great guru."

You can almost say that we've got an "Odd Couple" here. Bush needed DeLay to get some of his legislation through Congress--certainly the tax cuts, Patriot Act, September 11 war resolution, energy policy, perscription drug plan, CAFTA, and such. It has been the House that has taken the lead in promoting the president's agenda for the past five years, and DeLay was the key player in promoting the agenda through his "K-Street Project" network.

But now DeLay is embroiled in scandal. DeLay has been connected with ubber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and has been charged with money laundering in Texas state court. The K-Street Project is pretty much demolished, Abramoff is talking to the feds, and there are a lot of Republican congressmen who are concerned where this entire scandal is going. Whatever cozy, or not-so-cozy relationship the Bush administration had with DeLay, they are also trying to distance themselves away from the embattled former House majority leader. Yet, a part of the DeLay / Abramoff scandal is tainting even the Bush White House. In my previous post, DeLay wrote to Attorney General John Ashcroft to ask for the Justice Department to investigate and shut down the Alabama-Coushatta tribe on behalf of Jack Abramoff's indian tribe casino clients. There's also the letter-writing campaign to Interior Secretary Gale Norton that Abramoff was involved with. President Bush may not have known of these issues, but the linking of the Bush White House with DeLay and Abramoff certainly raises suspicions. And it gets better:

[W]ith the possibility that DeLay could be indicted in the Abramoff case, the Administration fears that the scandal could tarnish all Republicans and even hand the House to the Democrats. "They're worried about the Congress," an adviser said after talking to White House aides, "and they're worried about themselves." Although DeLay's forfeiture of his leadership post makes things easier for the White House, the Abramoff saga will continue to be a problem. Bracing for the worst, Administration officials obtained from the Secret Service a list of all the times Abramoff entered the White House complex, and they scrambled to determine the reason for each visit. Bush aides are also trying to identify all the photos that may exist of the two men together. Abramoff attended Hanukkah and holiday events at the White House, according to an aide who has seen the list. Press secretary Scott McClellan said Abramoff might have attended large gatherings with Bush but added, "The President does not know him, nor does the President recall ever meeting him."

Republican officials say they are so worried about the Abramoff problem that they are now inclined to stoke a fight with Democrats over the confirmation of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court in an effort to turn the page from the lobbying investigation.

Talk about being worried. Like it or not, Bush is also involved in the scandal. He may not have been a willing participant in the deals that Abramoff or DeLay created, but the administration--and the Republican Party--looked the other way as this network of lobbyists and congressmen was created. President Bush even benefited from these deals. Consider this:

In the end, Bush may be saved by the textured relationship he has long had with well-heeled donors, who raised $300 million for his 2004 campaign, the most expensive one in the nation's history. When the President is traveling, he does not like to have contributors or local officials in his cars, planes or holding rooms unless they are there for a good reason, and he sometimes questions his underlings sharply if someone he considers extraneous is admitted. To make sure that doesn't happen, chief of staff Andrew Card has set up an elaborate vetting system that keeps people from sidling up to the President to suggest or hand anything to him. "They learned a lot from the previous Administration," says a Bush friend intimately familiar with the staff protocols.

Abramoff was one of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign's "pioneers," meaning he raised at least $100,000, most of it from others, in increments of $2,000. After Abramoff pleaded guilty, Bush aides announced they had donated to the American Heart Association $6,000 that had been given to the campaign by Abramoff, his wife and one of his Indian-tribe clients. But Republican officials said they plan to keep the remaining $94,000. A Bush aide said it cannot be assumed that the other donors, who were simply recruited by Abramoff, have done anything wrong: "That's not a fair standard."

In other words, it was the system that was created to keep the GOP machinery happy with the flowing of money for political favors. It didn't matter whether Bush helped Abramoff or not with his Indian tribes--it only mattered that the GOP controlled the machinery, that the money flowed from the lobbyists to the Republicans, and that political favors were given to the lobbyists and their clients from the Republicans in return for the campaign contributions.

That is the essence of this entire corruption.

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