THE HAMMER DROPS....

THE HAMMER DROPS. Today's big news, besides my winning the Prospect NCAA office pool, is, of course, Tom DeLay's withdrawal from his re-election race and announced plan to step down from office in a matter of weeks. Former aide Tony Rudy's guilty plea last week -- with Ed Buckham almost sure to be next on the roster -- clearly provoked DeLay's decision. As The Washington Post reports today, DeLay will be able to convert his remaining campaign funds -- hundreds of thousands of dollars -- to his legal expenses, which are likely to shoot up over the remainder of the year. For a round-up of links and some interesting initial reactions, including helpful speculation on the coming special election to replace DeLay, see Charles Kuffner's post here. (Midterm Madness also will no doubt be gaming out the electoral situation in the 22nd District today.)

As for Time magazine's exclusive scoop on this story last night, as a major Mike Allen fan it pains me a bit to point out this error from his piece:

Regardless, DeLay was forced to vacate his post as majority leader because of a House Republican rule (known as "the DeLay rule," because it was enacted amid concern about his legal situation) that requires a leader under indictment to step down.

Of course, that's the opposite of what the DeLay rule was. The rule barring indicted House officials from retaining GOP leadership roles dated back to the Gingrich Revolution. 2004's GOP conference vote in favor of "the DeLay rule" eliminated that older standard so as to accommodate the majority leader at a time when an indictment seemed likely to come. It was only reversed when the political heat forced the conference into retreat.

That incident does help to remind one of just how much of DeLay's troubles can be traced back to what, in retrospect, looks like both his crowning moment of political audacity and his moment of crucial overreach: the 2002 re-redistricting gambit in Texas. The financial shenanigans involved in gaming the 2002 state elections to stack the legislature sufficiently to push the plan through; the fracas regarding the fugitive Texas Democratic legislators; Ronnie Earle's criminal investigation of DeLay's 2002 fundraising efforts; the truce-shattering ethics complaint filed in 2004 by Democrat Chris Bell, a casualty of the new redistricting plan; the ethics committee´┐Żs admonishments of DeLay and the subsequent gutting of the panel and its bylaws, which garnered much more high-profile criticism than Republicans had anticipated; DeLay's indictment, and his stepping down from the leadership; John Boehner's surprising ascension to the majority leader post. Each development followed logically from what had preceded it, and it all generally traces back to the Texas redistricting power play, which gained the GOP a few new House seats in 2004, but may lose a good deal more for them in 2006. (Obviously the Jack Abramoff scandals played an equally important and independent role here as well.)

--Sam Rosenfeld

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