DeLay departure will be a deliberately low-key affair

Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) will leave Congress this week with a pronounced lack of fanfare.

The former majority leader ends his almost-24-year congressional career this week when he officially resigns Friday.

The controversial Texan leaves Capitol Hill under a cloud of doubt about the election-year prospects for his Republican colleagues, and his last week in the House promises to be an understated affair.

The Texas delegation has organized a dinner in his honor tonight at a restaurant in downtown Washington, and DeLay himself is expected to address his colleagues during the weekly conference meeting tomorrow morning, according to an itinerary provided by his office.

He will also hold an appreciation dinner for members of his security detail, past and present, and their families tomorrow night and will address the U.S. Capitol Police during a shift change Friday.

DeLay and his wife, Christine, will also host an open house for members, staff and other well-wishers Friday in the congressman’s office in the Cannon House Office Building.

This week’s departure is a formality for DeLay after he officially announced his resignation from Congress April 4. It also marks the end of an almost-two-year saga during which he was admonished repeatedly by the House ethics committee and indicted by a grand jury in Texas and two former staff members pleaded guilty in a federal corruption probe surrounding former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The campaign-finance-related case in Texas is moving slowly through the court system in that state after a series of appeals forced DeLay to abandon his plans to return to the leadership during the 109th Congress earlier this year, a decision that eventually led to his resignation. DeLay was named in the guilty pleas of his former staff members, but the Justice Department has not taken any action against him and he has denied any wrongdoing.

The 11th-term lawmaker will leave behind a mixed legacy in the House. He will be known both for his effectiveness as a whip and leader and for the aggressive tactics he used to enforce loyalty from his Republican colleagues and to combat Democrats in the White House and on Capitol Hill.

DeLay leaves Congress as the two parties step up their campaign activities in preparation for the midterm elections, with Republicans increasingly anxious about their prospects for holding the House.

During his tenure in leadership, DeLay came to embody the strong-arm tactics often employed by his Republican majority, and his political demise coincides with the mounting struggles of his party.

GOP leaders in the House were expected to honor DeLay during their weekly conference meeting tomorrow morning, but leadership aides were unable to confirm the details of that tribute as of press time yesterday. In addition, DeLay was expected to make a few remarks at the weekly Theme Team meeting hosted by Conference Vice Chairman Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), and he will make his final remarks on the House floor during a series of afternoon votes.

Current and former leadership aides said the lawmaker’s low-key departure is a conscious decision not to highlight the last chapter in his congressional career.

DeLay earned a well-deserved reputation in Congress for his ferocious partisanship, and congressional Democrats said they would continue to hammer Republicans on the corruption issue after DeLay departs.

“As Congressman DeLay prepares to leave Congress next week, House Democrats will keep the pressure on Republican corruption,” said Jennifer Crider, spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “Republicans will not change the way they do business in Washington at the expense of the American people just because Congressman DeLay has quit.”

Democrats had kinder words for DeLay during debate over the last piece of legislation he introduced as a member of Congress, a bill to speed the process of finding permanent homes for foster children. DeLay and his wife have been strong advocates for foster children during his time in Congress.

That bill is pending in the Senate, but a Republican leadership aide in that chamber said Democrats were threatening to hold up its passage.

During a recent interview, DeLay refused to blame his Republican colleagues for forcing him to step aside and expressed no ill will against the members of his own party for the political troubles that led to his resignation. “It’s nobody’s fault,” he said.

“I think the Democrats knew what they were doing,” DeLay said. “Disrupting the leadership in the middle of the Congress was very negative.”

Part of the reason for Delay’s low-key sendoff is that his staff and supporters have already held a number of parties in honor of the former majority leader.

His staff in the majority leader’s office threw a party in appreciation of their boss at the Bullfeathers restaurant on Capitol Hill the same week his GOP colleagues elected Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) to replace him. About 150 current and former staff members attended the event, one attendee said, including his first chief of staff, Rocky Mountain, who works in the government-affairs office of Dell Computer Corp. Some of his former staff members threw an informal barbecue last month, and similar gathering are expected as the DeLays settle in Alexandria, Va.

DeLay and his wife are now permanent residents of Virginia, but the couple will maintain their home in Sugar Land, Texas. DeLay has yet to indicate what he plans to do upon leaving Congress.

Republicans in Texas cannot name his successor on the ballot until DeLay has officially resigned. Representatives from each of the four counties in his district will convene to name his replacement when the resignation becomes official. In a recent poll conducted by Fort Bend County, the largest county in the district, Republican voters threw overwhelming support behind Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace.