Tom DeLay's indictment this week sidelines a key White House ally on the Hill.
Just when Washington Republicans thought things could not get much worse, they did.
The indictment Wednesday of House majority leader Tom DeLay of Texas on a money-laundering conspiracy charge adds to a litany of GOP woes that could consume the party for months. Even the easy confirmation of John Roberts Thursday as chief justice could bring only a short respite if President Bush's next Supreme Court nomination, as early as Friday, triggers a political donnybrook.
But the legal troubles of Mr. DeLay, which have forced him out of the House leadership for now, present more than just a challenge to his own future. For Mr. Bush, the indictment takes his most skilled legislative ally out of the game at a time when the president was already struggling to enact an ambitious second-term agenda and overcome criticism over the war in Iraq, the federal response to hurricanes, high gas prices, and a soaring deficit.
DeLay could be acquitted, of course, bolstering his claim that he is the victim of an aggressively partisan Texas prosecutor. If he gets the speedy trial his lawyers seek, and convinces a jury he is not guilty of the single charge he faces, his legal troubles could be cleared up in a matter of months, well before he faces voters again in 2006. Some Republicans are skeptical, though, that DeLay's legal process could have a cleansing effect.
"I have to tell you ... the press is not sympathetic to our party and will therefore be less willing to let this go," says Rep. Tom Tancredo (R) of Colorado. "We'll be dealing with this for a long time."
Indeed, even if DeLay is acquitted, that will not expunge his record of admonishments by the House Ethics Committee for his actions as a fundraiser and enforcer of political loyalty. Democrats have tried to demonize DeLay for years.