The Once and Future Big Enchilada

The chamber is voting on H. Res. 388, one of those anti-Castro resolutions that always pass. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the new majority leader, is at the floor leader's table. David Dreier (R-Calif.), the Rules Committee chairman, is in the well. Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) is preparing for the next debate.

With two minutes left in the vote, DeLay enters almost unnoticed through a side door and registers his vote from the last row. Some colleagues spy DeLay along a railing in the back corner and, over the next few minutes, come by with a handshake, an arm on the shoulder, a hand on the arm or an understanding shake of the head. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) slaps his old foe on the back. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), one of those hoping to move up after DeLay's fall, stops by for a word.

Then, for a painful moment, Tom DeLay is all alone on the floor with nobody to talk to Wednesday morning, DeLay was the most feared legislative leader Congress had seen in decades. Wednesday afternoon, he was being treated like just one of 400 backbenchers. Asked for a presidential defense of DeLay, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: "The president's view is that we need to let the legal process work."

Before the "Mr. DeLay" sign could be removed from the door of the majority leader's office, most of his colleagues were either hiding from television cameras or scheming about their move up the leadership. "He will fight this, and we give him our utmost support, but the conference has to go on" was the best Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) could muster.

The American Spectator, a conservative publication that rarely if ever had a cross word for DeLay, ran an online article cruelly suggesting that DeLay has "worn out his welcome" and arguing: "Whether or not he's actually dirty, Republicans should let him hang out to dry." If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. Or, in DeLay's case, call Pat Robertson.

Before returning to Houston yesterday, DeLay appeared on the preacher's 700 Club, where he got some much-needed support. "This a shocking thing this man is doing to you!" Robertson told DeLay, who readily agreed, saying, "It's all politics."

"They say a clever prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich if he gets the right grand jury," Robertson continued. "Was this sort of a setup?" "This is a ham sandwich with no ham," DeLay said. Laughter flowed from the audience, the Washington Post reported.

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