Fox pundits: Dems' culture of corruption campaign defunct with DeLay departure

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

On Fox News, numerous media figures asserted that Rep. Tom DeLay's (R-TX) decision to resign from Congress will hurt Democrats' ability to campaign against congressional Republicans' record of corruption -- and DeLay's part in it -- during the November 2006 midterm elections. But such predictions overlook the widening ethics scandals involving DeLay and the Republican Party.

Appearing on Fox News on the evening of April 4, numerous media figures asserted that Rep. Tom DeLay's (R-TX) decision to abandon his re-election race and resign from Congress will hurt Democrats' ability to campaign against congressional Republicans' record of corruption -- and DeLay's part in it -- during the November 2006 midterm elections. For instance, right-wing syndicated columnist Ann Coulter argued that DeLay, in stepping down, "took that issue away from Democrats." Fox News host John Kasich declared, "[W]e will hear very little about Tom DeLay from here forward." Fox News congressional correspondent Brian Wilson claimed, "Democrats won't be able to use DeLay for that much longer." And Washington Examiner White House correspondent Bill Sammon said Democrats have been "deprived of somebody that they can rally against."

But such predictions overlook the widening ethics scandals involving DeLay and the Republican Party. A March 5 article by Los Angeles Times staff writer Janet Hook noted that some Republicans, including former Rep. Vin Weber (MN), acknowledge that the current political environment presents serious risks for the GOP, regardless of DeLay's departure. From Hook's article, "GOP Woes Not Likely to Leave With DeLay":

Many Republicans expressed hope Tuesday that DeLay's decision to resign his House seat would help them squelch Democratic charges that the GOP had created a "culture of corruption" in Washington.

But even with the Texan removed as the poster boy for such attacks, a hostile campaign environment -- including a federal inquiry likely to keep the ethics issue alive -- confronts Republicans heading into the midterm congressional elections.

"Clearly, we are in an environment right now that could lead to significant Republican problems in the fall," said former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.), now a lobbyist. "If the election is held under the circumstances that prevail today, we'd lose control of the House."

Hook went on to note that the ongoing federal investigation surrounding the activities of Republican former lobbyist Jack Abramoff has resulted in charges against several high-ranking DeLay aides and "could explode with new indictments at any time":

The ongoing Justice Department investigation of influence-peddling in Washington -- which already has led to guilty pleas by former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff and two onetime DeLay aides -- is a political powder keg that could explode with new indictments at any time.

"The fallout from Abramoff has not even begun," said Amy Walter, a political analyst with the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. "There are certainly more shoes to drop."

Further, Hook reported that Democrats' anti-corruption platform is based on more than DeLay's alleged misconduct. She listed the numerous other GOP scandals at their disposal, many of them still unfolding:

As this year's campaign evolves, Democrats undoubtedly will remind voters that Karl Rove, President Bush's senior political advisor, remains a target of a federal probe into who leaked the name of a CIA operative to journalists in 2003; that Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was indicted in the case; that Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Rancho Santa Fe) quit Congress last fall after pleading guilty to bribery; and that a parade of Republicans aside from DeLay had questionable dealings with Abramoff.

In an April 5 article, Washington Post staff writers R. Jeffrey Smith and Jonathan Weisman similarly reported Democrats' intention to remain focused on Republicans' ethics record:

DeLay's decision to resign from the chamber he once ruled with a clenched fist gave some Republicans hope that the party can move beyond a burgeoning corruption scandal as the congressional election season heats up. That scandal so far has led to guilty pleas to corruption charges by lobbyist Jack Abramoff, once a close ally of DeLay's, and former DeLay aides Michael Scanlon and Tony C. Rudy, who worked with Abramoff after leaving their Capitol Hill jobs.

But Democrats vowed that they would not let their opponents slip the noose of what they have labeled a "culture of corruption."

"When a person steps down, it inflates the severity of the situation, and if they think after Tony Rudy, Jack Abramoff and the other guys the country will stop debate on these issues, they've got another thing coming," Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said yesterday. "Federal prosecutors don't care about Republican spin."

Nonetheless, Fox News hosts, reporters, and guests asserted that DeLay's departure effectively removes his ethics record from political discussion and minimizes GOP corruption as a campaign issue in the midterm elections. As the following examples show, such arguments were in some cases encouraged by leading questions from the likes of hosts Sean Hannity and John Gibson.

From the April 4 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

HANNITY: First, our top story tonight. Former Majority Leader Tom DeLay announced late last night that he will not seek re-election this fall and he expects to resign from his congressional seat sometime this spring. Some Democrats are already doing cartwheels, but is this actually a blow to their election-year strategy?

[...]

HANNITY: Politically speaking, does this hurt -- did they take away the one guy that they could hold up as the poster child to demonize in the election?

COULTER: Yes.

HANNITY: Did Tom DeLay do something noble for the Republicans in that sense?

COULTER: Yes, he absolutely did. Yes, because his name is, you know, treated like Hitler among the Democrats now. He is right -- Barbra Streisand would have been fundraising against, ooh, Tom DeLay, Tom DeLay, this incredibly honorable man. If they can do it to him, they can do it to anyone.

ALAN COLMES (co-host): You know --

COULTER: And, yes, he took that issue away from the Democrats. But I think Republicans ought to stop rolling over for this behavior. Not DeLay, but the Republicans in Congress and the president.

From the April 4 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

KASICH: Well, you know, as you know the president's first election, second term, it's always bad for the party in power. I got a sense that maybe they bottom out. We have to wait and see if the president gets a little popularity back. He gets on the trail, things could turn around. But long way to go. You hit the nail right on the head, but we will hear very little about Tom DeLay from here forward.

From the April 4 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

WILSON: By the way, we received a copy of the new Democratic fundraising letter mentioning DeLay that was sent out today. But, in effect, the Democrats are losing their fundraising poster child. To many Democrats, DeLay was the face of enemy. He inflamed them, caused many wealthy Democrats to open their wallets. But Democrats won't be able to use DeLay for that much longer.

[...]

SAMMON: It's a short-term political gain for Democrats. This is their one good news cycle out of this -- is "DeLay is out". After that, it gets worse, because the fact that he's out means, as Mara said, they can't use him to fundraise, they can't use them as their favorite whipping boy. Reminds me when [former House Speaker] Newt Gingrich [R-GA] left. It's hard to demonize someone like a [House Speaker] Denny Hastert [R-IL] or a [Senate Majority Leader] Bill Frist [R-TN]. It's easy to demonize a Tom DeLay or a Newt Gingrich. They are deprived of somebody that they can rally against. And you know, you can almost see the crestfallen looks on the Democrats' faces today as they said it's not over. This isn't the end of it.

MARA LIASSON (national political correspondent, National Public Radio): Well, they're right on that one.

SAMMON: It reminded me of when the Dubai port deals went away. And all the Democrats said wait a minute, this isn't over. It was over, and this is over as well.

From the April 4 edition of Fox News' Big Story with John Gibson:

GIBSON: I've heard other Democrats, I heard [House Democratic Leader] Nancy Pelosi [CA] say the same thing earlier. This is kind of the predictable reaction. Hasn't DeLay, by taking himself out of the race, taken away a fundraising device, taken away a rhetorical device? Hasn't he taken from you a victory? It's a long way to the election. You can't hang DeLay on the Republicans all the way to November, can you?

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