Recessitation—Members of the House of Representatives quickly got out of town on December 19. And they aren’t coming back until January 31. Why the month and a half paid vacation? Two words: Tom DeLay.
After “The Hammer” stepped down as House majority leader last September upon his indictment in Texas, House leaders named only a temporary replacement for him. DeLay hoped he’d quickly beat the charges and return to power. And, encouraging him, a number of Republicans felt that, indictment or no, he was still their most effective leader. But as a growing faction of moderates, reformers and fretful conservatives pushed to elect a new leader immediately, DeLay succumbed to pressure and gave up the effort to regain his post. Acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt of Missouri and former Gingrich deputy John Boehner of Ohio will now vie to succeed him, as Republicans debate whether to shake up the leadership beyond DeLay.
While the lengthy recess failed to achieve its primary aim, it did provide the Bush administration with yet another opportunity to appoint political cronies to key executive branch positions by sidestepping congressional approval. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the new coordinator of disaster relief for the State Department is a woman with zero emergency management experience and a vicious anti-choice agenda. The new head of the immigration bureau at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a niece of General Richard Myers and the wife of DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff’s chief of staff, comes with virtually no immigration or customs qualifications. And a new member of the Federal Trade Commission overruled senior staff at the Justice Department on two crucial voting rights cases. One of those cases concerned the legality of a Texas redistricting plan engineered by none other than Tom DeLay.
The Abramoff Games—If 2005 was a groundbreaking year for political scandals—remember Scooter Libby, Tom DeLay and Randy “Duke” Cunningham?—2006 could be even dicier. The New Year of corruption kicked off with a bang on January 3, when überlobbyist Jack Abramoff strolled out of a federal courthouse in Washington in a black fedora and belted trenchcoat, conjuring up visions of his favorite movie, The Godfather. The plea agreement on charges of conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion sets the stage for Abramoff to sing loudly about his beneficiaries in Congress. Already Capitol Hill reporters are abuzz with just how many there will be.
Let the guessing games begin. The day after the plea, ABC’s The Note provided a useful primer. The Justice Department’s probe into Abramoff places in legal jeopardy “a dozen lawmakers,” wrote the New York Times, “about half a dozen House and Senate members,” stated the Washington Post and “at least 12 lawmakers,” surmised USA Today. Not to be outdone, the New York Post calculated the total to be “as many as 20 Congress members and staffers.” The usually understated Wall Street Journal declared that “the probe of legislators [is] said to number 4 so far.” But “Mr. Abramoff,” it added, “says he has information that could implicate 60 lawmakers.”
Confirmation Countdown—At our press time, Senate Democrats were contending that they will not filibuster the recent nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. All signs indicate that Alito will be confirmed after a somewhat more contentious hearing than Chief Justice John Roberts received. But since the outcome will help define the U.S. legal landscape for the next half century, let’s not forget who our (likely) next Associate Justice of the Court really is.
A graduate of Princeton University, Alito was once active in an alumni group that cautioned against greater inclusiveness for women, minorities and “homosexuals on the rampage.” As Deputy Solicitor General in the Reagan administration he wrote a memo urging that Roe v. Wade be overturned. As a 3rd Circuit Court judge, Alito “reliably favored big business legislation as he pushed the federal appeals court in Philadelphia in a conservative direction,” wrote the New York Times. “He’s seldom sided with a criminal defendant, a foreign national facing deportation, an employee alleging discrimination or consumers suing big business,” according to Knight-Ridder. Ninety-one percent of his dissents were more conservative than those of his colleagues, found University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein. He’s been a consistent proponent of expanded executive power, such as the NSA surveillance Bush secretly authorized.
If Alito’s not Scalia or Thomas, he is another John Roberts—a conservative wolf in sheep’s clothing.