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Defiant DeLay's Parting Shot at the Democrats

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Leaving Washington today after 22 years in Congress, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay exiting stage right, as he himself said. Word is, he maybe going only as far as Virginia, to join a lobbying firm. But yesterday, he said goodbye in a speech from the floor of the House. And he gave this reminder of why he was called The Hammer.

Representative TOM DELAY (Republican, Texas): However unjust, all we can say is that partisanship is the worst means of settling fundamental political differences. Except for all the others.

BRAND: To talk about the end of the DeLay era and other Washington matters, NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams is here now.

Hi Juan

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Good day, Madeleine.

BRAND: What do you suppose Tom DeLay's legacy is going to be?

WILLIAMS: Madeleine, you referred to him as The Hammer, and I think that's totally appropriate. Of course, that's his favorite nickname. But the reason is that when there was a floor vote, you could absolutely count on Republicans remaining a solid block. And since they have the majority in the House, they would win almost every time Tom DeLay was in charge on an issue.

And the reason was, he had control of many of the conservative groups - inroads in the conservative groups around the country. So he could arrange for a challenger to one of his fellow Republicans, if they didn't play ball with The Hammer. And similarly, he had inroads into K Street, the famous street here in Washington, with all of the lobbyists and big time lawyers.

In all those ways, Tom DeLay was a tough guy, politically, who held the line, and made sure Republicans were there to support President Bush's legislative agenda.

BRAND: Well, ironically K Street was his undoing. Did he acknowledge that at all?

WILLIAMS: No. You know, it's a very interesting speech Madeleine. And you know that the House was simply filled with Republicans for the departure speech. Tom DeLay said, There's nothing wrong with bitter, divisive, partisan rancor. And said that only people who lament the passing of liberal domination of Capitol Hill, view it that way. And never mentioned Jack Abramoff. Never mentioned the money flowing from K Street, and the trips to Scotland, and private jets and corporate jets flying people around. No, he was all about what he viewed as the virtue and the vigor that comes from honest debate in politics.

BRAND: Juan, lets talk about another corruption scandal there in Washington. This time, on the Democratic side, with Congressman William Jefferson, from Louisiana. What's the latest with that?

WILLIAMS: Well, this has become very much of a problem for the Democrats, Madeleine, internally. Internally, you have Democrats in their strategy caucus, talking about how they can get Jefferson to resign from his post, his seat on the Ways and Mean Committee. But you, at the same time, you have people on the Black Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, who are saying wait a second. Where's the presumption of innocence? Questioning whether or not black voters would be offended that, you know, suddenly this black colleague would be abandoned by the white leadership of the Democrats in the House of Representatives, specifically Nancy Pelosi.

Well that has led Pelosi, not to make any kind of public statement, but to make it clear that the Democrats are going to have trouble charging that the Republicans have a culture of corruption - again, thinking back to Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff - if they have in their midst and are supporting a congressman who, you know, the FBI already has two guilty pleas of people saying they tried to bribe Congressman Jefferson. In addition, they said they had videotape of him receiving a bribe of $100,000, $90,000 of which they found in his refrigerator.

So, Pelosi is all about trying to create distance between Democrats and Jefferson. But she's meeting some resistance from the Congressional Black Caucus.

BRAND: Well, DeLay himself was forced to give up his leadership post, when he was accused of corruption. So, what is the Congressional Black Caucus saying is unfair about Pelosi's move?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, Jefferson hasn't been indicted. He hasn't been charged with anything. And he says reasonable people will hear him in time. But he hasn't offered the explanation yet. So that's why he hasn't been forced to step down. He's not indicted, not charged, and at this point, the investigation continues.

BRAND: Juan, thank you.

WILLIAMS: You're welcomed Madeleine.

BRAND: NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Juan Williams
Juan Williams, one of America's leading journalists, is a news analyst, appearing regularly on NPR's Morning Edition. Knowledgeable and charismatic, Williams brings insight and depth — hallmarks of NPR programs — to a wide spectrum of issues and ideas.
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