Inside Washington's Headlines

by Ken Feltman

Radnor Inc.

February 2007


Legislative insight

Political intelligence




Ken Feltman is Chairman of Radnor Inc., a political consulting and legislative relations firm in Washington, D.C. He is past-president of the International Association of Political Consultants and the American League of Lobbyists.










There go the Republicans

?Governor,? said the newly elected state legislator to the Kingfish, ?I want you to know that I?ll be with you when you?re right.?

Louisiana Governor Huey (?The Kingfish?) Long looked up at the young man. A few months ago, the Kingfish himself had plucked the boy from a grimy, dead-end job and funded his run for office. Long had secured the votes that carried the young man to victory. Now this young man stood there in the withering blaze of the Kingfish?s searching eyes.

Finally, the Kingfish dismissed him: ?Boy, I don?t need you when I?m right.?

Now Republicans are telling tales and the tales are very telling.

Embittered by their stinging defeat, Capitol Hill Republicans are spilling out stories of autocratic rule by ruthless party leaders in the House and incompetence by ineffective leaders in the Senate. They used to whisper and - if their whisper got repeated - deny what they had said. Now, a few say it on the record. Finally, they must believe that they are immune from retribution. Their leaders are defeated, disgraced, jailed, indicted, retired or have resigned.

The Greeks had a word for it: Hubris. Current Washington usage defines hubris as overconfident and prideful arrogance, often associated with ignorance and lack of modesty. Yes, that seems to describe the way the House Republican leaders treated anyone who objected to whatever the leaders wanted.

Here?s a sample of what Republicans are saying:

Tom DeLay overreached. Under attack in Texas and disgraced by admonishments from the House Ethics Committee, he resigned from Congress. Before resigning, he extracted his retribution against the GOP members of the Ethics Committee who voted for the admonishments: House Speaker Dennis Hastert removed the offending Republicans from the Ethics Committee. The Ethics Chairman, Colorado's Joel Hefley, had been one of Hastert's closest friends but that did not spare him. Disillusioned, he has left Congress.

But DeLay has not found it as easy to shake an ambitious and partisan Texas prosecutor, who just happens to be a Democrat angry over DeLay?s redistricting plan that cost Democrats seats in the House. DeLay, known as ?The Hammer,? was effective but arbitrary in controlling the House. And he did control the House, as Hefley's departure illustrates. Any illusions that Speaker Dennis Hastert was in charge are naïve. The more we learn, the more we conclude that Hastert was over his head. Hastert deferred to DeLay and to DeLay's arrogant staff. DeLay's staff routinely ridiculed Hastert to other House staff members and even to some Congressmen.

All Republicans paid for that denigration of Hastert by DeLay staffers because it made clear the pecking order. Elected members of Congress came to fear retribution directed by DeLay's staff. When DeLay's staff members left the Hill for jobs in the lobbying community, they continued their overbearing ways. Now, some of the more aggressively vindictive are persona non grata in a Democratic world. How far have the mighty fallen?

Very far. Or maybe not. It depends on the definition of far.

An apple does not fall far from the tree

Despite the fall, House Republicans have done their best to perpetuate the old leadership. Hold-over leaders reelected by their fellow Republicans include Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) New York Times writer Thomas Edsall calls the selection of DeLay protégé Roy Blunt as a GOP House leader as a Republican gift to the Democrats that will keep on giving.

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What a crew the Republicans have in their leadership! Perhaps the party is so tired of junketing to far-off golf resorts, so exhausted by gerrymandering all those congressional districts, so depleted by intra-party assassinations, so worn down by the burden of carting off all that pork - that the party can?t find any new blood to lead it back to power.

The ?old blood? selected by the House GOP is hardly the stuff of rallying and regaining ground. These are warhorses, recycled and claimed only because the inspirational, the young and the visionary had the inconvenient habit of speaking up. They foretold a November disaster. Now that the disaster has occurred, these apostates are shunned. The old bloods would rather blame the President, former Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, a wave or anything but their own craven and incestuous behavior. So they lost. They will seek to regroup behind flawed leaders. After all, the Republicans seem to say, why look at our leaders when the Democrats have some pretty flawed leaders out and about?

No real knowledge

So it seems that Tom DeLay is gone, still not forgotten, but gone. His most important legacies may be the use of political office for what could appear to be political or personal gain and his belief that if you repeat an outlandish statement enough, it will become true. Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert learned these lessons.

Hastert made a big profit on land he owned near a highway project in his Illinois district. In 2002, Hastert purchased a home along with 195 acres of mostly landlocked farm land for $2.1 million. In February 2004, Hastert?s campaign committee treasurer created a trust through which Hastert and his business partners purchased a 69-acre parcel for $340,000, providing potential road access to part of Hastert?s previously purchased landlocked farm land. In May 2005, Hastert transferred 69 acres from his farm to the trust.

Then, during House and Senate negotiations over the highway authorization bill, Hastert added $152 million to help build a highway near his land and $55 million for an interchange near his property. Four months after the legislation was signed, the trust sold Hastert?s parcels for nearly $5 million to a real estate development firm.

This is the same Hastert who went around during the campaign telling people that he had no ?real? knowledge of disgraced former Congressman Mark Foley?s penchant for boys. What kind of knowledge did he have? Unreal knowledge?

Hastert is gone, replaced as Republican leader by Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), whose resume includes being bounced from the Republican leadership a few years ago for what one Republican colleague at the time called ?ineffective leadership skills.? Another House Republican called him ?not really articulate.? He was described last month by one of the surviving House Republicans as ?the guy who gets his picture in the paper because he arrived late for dinner and everyone else had dropped food on their ties.?

Some endorsements, huh? Oh, he did get his picture in the paper recently, in a skybox at a football game, enjoying a perk of his office as he was treated to the good life by some special interest group. In the background, more circumspect but still caught on camera, was DeLay?s successor: Roy Blunt of Missouri. Who is Roy Blunt?

Like DeLay, Blunt seems to go to the very edge of propriety and dangle over. His staff defends the dangling as ?perfectly legal.? But danglers make good targets for critics. What sort of stuff can they dig up on Blunt? Quite a bit, actually, and they need not have shovels. The stuff is mostly on the surface, where Blunt himself put it, just waiting for someone to stumble on it.

Emulating DeLay, Blunt has created a series of fund raising committees. We can expect that every transaction by these committees will be examined.

December's report on the new Democratic leadership in Congress created a fierce blast from Democrats. Many were angered by, as one reader said, ?Your failure to notice that the Republicans got thrown out for far worse ethical crimes than (House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi could ever commit.?

Get ready, Democrats: This month, it?s the Republicans? turn.

Meantime, reporters may write about the fact that Blunt divorced his wife after 35 years of marriage and married a lobbyist for Altria, parent of tobacco giant Philip Morris. In fact, to be sure that wedding gifts to the couple were legit, Blunt asked for and received a special dispensation from the House Ethics Committee. Lobbyists got the subtle message in that dispensation and showered the happy couple with wedding gifts.

His wife?s employer has helped keep things in the family by hiring Blunt?s son as a lobbyist in Missouri for many Altria subsidiaries, including Miller Brewing and Kraft Foods. He may be a more effective lobbyist because his brother is the governor. The governor owes his political success to his father?s pushiness. Cronies and large financial contributors also enjoy the Altria largess. It all fits together.

And some day it may all fly apart. If so, remember that House Republicans did it to themselves when they ignored a chance to select squeaky clean leaders. They chose the type of leaders who tried to sweep the Foley scandal under the rug.

Hey, guys, there?s no more room under the rug. You have a choice: Haul off the dirt or get a bigger rug.



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