A dream fades

The stream of negative stories about House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has already accomplished one thing — dashing any dream DeLay had of succeeding House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

The stream of negative stories about House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has already accomplished one thing — dashing any dream DeLay had of succeeding House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

Hastert, 63, who was released from the Bethesda Naval Hospital on Tuesday morning after kidney-stone surgery last week, was elected Speaker in 1999. He may retire once President Bush leaves office in 2008. DeLay, who turned 58 on Friday, was content to wait, even if Hastert stayed on through 2010 or 2012.

DeLay threw his crucial support behind Hastert back in 1998 when the opening for Speaker suddenly developed because he was too radioactive to win the job himself. In the years since, DeLay has been grooming himself for Speaker. Until recently, becoming Speaker was a doable goal for DeLay.

Ironically, it was DeLay’s own success that has made him more of a target to Democrats; up until these past weeks, DeLay’s Texas redistricting scheme was a win for him. After Texas state lawmakers redrew the congressional map, Texas Republicans picked up five seats last November, solidifying Hastert’s overall GOP majority.

The likelihood that DeLay would ever become Speaker began melting once more ethics allegations and other flaps surfaced.

After the death of Terri Schiavo, DeLay criticized the judges who declined to order the reinsertion of the brain-damaged woman’s feeding tube. “The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior.”

I can just imagine how the Democrats could and would use DeLay’s implied threat against judges in the 2006 House contests.

If there is a political tipping point, watch for DeLay to do what he needs to do if Hastert’s continuing control of the House is jeopardized by his controversies. DeLay is a realist.

Even if DeLay survives these skirmishes, his long-term Speaker potential is shot. Some Republicans will walk away from him and never come back. DeLay, who as whip counted votes, can do the math. Winning a party leadership spot only takes a majority of the GOP caucus — 116 votes at present. A Speaker needs the majority of all the voting members of the House — and that’s 218.

Who plays Mr. Smith? If the so-called Senate “nuclear option” comes to pass, which Senate Democrat will play the Jimmy Stewart role of the filibustering Mr. Smith? The names in play are Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.); Minority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.); Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and Ted Kennedy (Mass.).

Part of the Democratic Senate war-room strategy to stop any rules change is to work the blogosphere. Yesterday, Kennedy was scheduled to make calls to bloggers with the message on the GOP “abuse of power.” Kennedy spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter (former Kerry campaign spokeswoman) is on loan to the Reid anti-nuke option operation for the duration.

Reid on Tuesday cited the opposition of former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) to changing the rules. Said Dole, as quoted by Reid, “The Senate’s going to change. It’s not always going to be Republican.” Dems used a back channel to prod Dole to get that message out.

Number of times Reid said “radical Republicans” during his Tuesday stakeout: four.

Sweet is the Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times. E-mail: lsweet3022@aol.com

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