Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The persistent power of the go-to guy

Yesterday's New York Times had a great piece on Tom DeLay, who maintains his unofficial status as the "go-to guy" in Congress despite being removed from his official post as Majority Leader. Could you imagine if we actually had a network map of Congress? If you'd like to stoke those fires of imagination, check out Harvard Kennedy School's Program on Networked Governance, led by David Lazer. I don't think any maps of Congressional deal-making are immediately forthcoming, but Lazer and his team are doing other interesting things in the space of social networks and government.

1 comment:

Bruce Hoppe said...

October 12, 2005

In the House, DeLay Is a King Without a Crown

WASHINGTON, Oct. 11 - When the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee needed guidance on how to prepare for a series of tough spending and budget issues, he sat down with Tom DeLay.

Mr. DeLay was also on hand as the Budget Committee chairman held a private session on the drive for new spending cuts. And when the Republican leadership was caught short of votes for a contentious energy bill, Mr. DeLay scoured the House floor to help deliver a narrow victory.

While Mr. DeLay is officially out of his position as majority leader due to his indictment on criminal charges in Texas, he remains the go-to guy for many House Republicans. They say he is virtually indispensable as the party faces the daunting prospect of delivering $50 billion or more in spending cuts as well as an immigration measure in the coming weeks.

"He is still dialed in and gives good counsel, and that is what we are seeking," said John Scofield, a spokesman for Representative Jerry Lewis, the California Republican who is chairman of the Appropriations Committee, in explaining why Mr. Lewis called in Mr. DeLay for advice last week.

But the continuing strong presence of Mr. DeLay presents House Republicans with a quandary. Though he has the political muscle and inside knowledge to maneuver difficult legislation in a dicey political climate, he is also is operating under the liability of the criminal charges. Some Republicans acknowledge that their work could be tainted by any perception that he commands the House from the sidelines while awaiting a resolution of the charges.

"DeLay is driving the agenda," said one senior Republican lawmaker who did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of talking about internal party matters. "I guess he has to be because he is the only guy who can get this done. But once people find out he is still in charge, that brings its own set of issues."

His intense involvement also creates a potentially awkward situation with Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, now the titular No. 2 in the House and a potential permanent candidate for the post should Mr. DeLay's Texas legal troubles drag on. Though Mr. Blunt has said he expects Mr. DeLay to take back the leadership post, the temporary leadership team is still finding its footing and the task will not be made easier if lawmakers continue to look to Mr. DeLay.

"I thought once he was out, people would move on," said James A. Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. "But he is still there, concentrating power within the leadership and himself."

Democrats were quick to notice as well, pointing out that Mr. DeLay was serving in his familiar role last Friday, rounding up elusive votes on the floor of the House as Republicans barely staved off defeat of a measure they said would spur construction of oil refineries.

"I think it will raise questions in the public's mind," said Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat, about Mr. DeLay's involvement.

With the House in recess, Mr. DeLay is back in Texas, where he is taking a few days off from the relentless media campaign he has been waging against Ronnie Earle, the Austin prosecutor who brought the conspiracy and money laundering charges. But his legal team continues to contest the charges and on Tuesday sought to subpoena Mr. Earle and two aides to answer questions about their conduct in the case.

From the moment Mr. DeLay relinquished his leadership title after his Sept. 28 indictment, his senior colleagues have not hidden the fact that he will, for now, remain a force in the House.

"He is still a full-fledged member of Congress and has lots of political capital, and we are still very interested in his views," said Representative Deborah Pryce of Ohio, chairman of the House Republican Conference.

But how influential Mr. Delay's role would be only became apparent as the House headed toward recess at the end of last week.

When Republicans had a closed meeting late Thursday to consider a leadership plan for spending cuts to pay for hurricane relief, those who attended recounted that Mr. DeLay urged his colleagues to pursue a "bold agenda" as the best way to position themselves for the 2006 elections. And he conceded that he and other leaders had been slow to take seriously the need for ways to offset the post-hurricane spending.

Though he is no longer using the large suite of offices assigned to the majority leader on the first floor of the Capitol, he is still taking advantage of a smaller leader's office just off the House floor. Officials said he met there with Representative Jim Nussle, Republican of Iowa and chairman of the Budget Committee, and Representative John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio and chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee, to discuss potential spending cuts to be taken up in the next few weeks.

"We absolutely welcome his help," said Angela Kuck, a spokeswoman for the Budget Committee.

Aides to Mr. DeLay said he would continue to remain active, particularly because they view his absence from the leadership as strictly temporary.

"Mr. DeLay has a unique understanding of a lot of the big policy debates, and he is somebody who has always worked in the past with his colleagues to make the case that their votes are important," said Kevin Madden, Mr. DeLay's spokesman. "That is one of the reasons he got into leadership, and people still recognize he has a degree of knowledge and influence."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times