Saturday, January 07, 2006

Associated Press: GOP Scandal Woes Won't End With Delay's Withdrawl From Leadership

Finally somebody in the media gets it - Jennifer Loven of the Associated Press tells us today that the scandals/investigations/indictments/perp walks of 2006 are just getting started:

WASHINGTON Jan 7, 2006 — Republicans worried about their party's future have succeeded in pushing embattled former Majority Leader Tom DeLay off the stage. Even so, the Republicans' election-year troubles are far from over.

Need a reminder?

President Bush, the titular head of the GOP, is waging an unpopular war in Iraq and presiding over a nation with lingering economic anxieties. He suffers from approval ratings around 40 percent near record lows for his presidency. Questionable stock transactions by the top Republican in the Senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, are under investigation. A special prosecutor's probe continues into whether Bush administration officials outed a CIA operative in retribution for her husband's Iraq war criticism. A secret anti-terror program that Bush approved to eavesdrop on people inside the United States without warrants is raising concerns about overly broad presidential powers.

Potentially most damaging is an influence-peddling scandal on Capitol Hill.

Last week's guilty pleas to corruption and tax evasion charges by the central figure in the scandal, disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, are anything but the last chapter. Abramoff is cooperating in a wide-ranging investigation that could ensnare dozens of lawmakers with close ties to the generous and powerful lobbyist, including DeLay and House Administration Committee Chairman Bob Ney, R-Ohio.

Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University, called it a "partywide crisis" that the GOP has problems with its leadership in all three areas of the federal government that it controls.

"The removal of DeLay from the leadership doesn't end their problems with scandal and, more broadly, with running the House," said Norm Ornstein with the conservative American Enterprise Institute. "That's their challenge, is to begin to get their policy act together. And they're going to have to do it with just Republicans because Democrats are going to be against them."

Democrats have made clear they plan to make GOP corruption a centerpiece campaign theme. They pounced.

"Tom DeLay bears much of the responsibility for the culture of corruption Republicans have created in Washington, D.C., but his removal from House leadership alone will not end the pervasive cronyism and corruption that he and Washington Republicans created," said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

The anti-corruption tact gives Democrats the opportunity to overcome bad fractures within their party as well as their lack of a cohesive message. An AP-Ipsos poll last month showed that 88 percent of Americans say that corruption reaching into all levels of government is a serious problem.

Bush had hoped to rescue both his and his party's political fortunes by turning a new page in 2006 and focusing on immigration reform, good economic news and turning around public opinion on Iraq.

But I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, is expected to stand trial in the CIA leak case this summer, just ahead of the midterm elections. The special prosecutor's inquiry continues, leaving the fate of other senior White House officials, notably Bush's deputy chief of staff and political guru Karl Rove, in doubt.

And the election for a new House majority leader will serve as a reminder of the GOP's troubles right when Bush is unveiling his election-year agenda. The House reconvenes the week of Jan. 30, with the election likely to be held right away. Bush's annual State of the Union address is tentatively scheduled for that week.

Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt, the GOP whip who temporarily has filled in for DeLay and is expected to run to permanently take his place, also could suffer from his association with Abramoff. He was among many lawmakers who refunded or gave to charity some or all of the donations they received from Abramoff, his associates or clients.

Though House Speaker Dennis Hastert's position seems secure, some are calling for a wider leadership shake up that would be messy and distracting. "The conference needs the ability to reassess the leadership team as a whole," said Rep. Melissa Hart, R-Pa.

Now many in the press have been compliantly reporting the Bushie message that Georgie Junior plans to start turning his administration around come January 31st when he officially kicks off the year with his State of the Union Address and lays the groundwork for a productive year.

But what the press fail to acknowledge in most of these stories is that Georgie Junior remains dependant on circumstances beyond his control, mostly in Iraq, but also in the CIA leak case, the Abramoff case, the NSA spying investigation, etc.

Georgie can give a helluva speech onJaunary 31st, but if Karl Rove gets indicted by Patrick Fitzgerald come February, all that wonderful January speechifying won't mean shit for the rest of the year. The same goes for more GOP indictements in the Abramoff scandal, more revelations in the NSA spying scandal, the release of more Abu Ghraib photos (which the administration keeps trying to quash by going to court), more bloodshed/civil war in Iraq, or the emergence of a Iranian-allied Shi'ite government in Iraq.

For Georgie Junior to have a good 2006, he has to get extremely lucky. And so far, in both Iraq (11 Americans killed on Thursday) and the Abramoff scandal, Bush hasn't exactly started off the year rolling sevens.

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