If the toothless lobbying “reform” bill approved by the House and Senate is any indication, we haven’t seen the last of the likes of Jack Abramoff or Tom DeLay. DeLay exits Congress June 9, but his influence lives on. His former deputy, Dennis Hastert, remains Speaker of the House. His key liaison to lobbyists on K Street, Roy Blunt, is majority whip. Even John Boehner, a rival from the Gingrich years, retained three DeLay staffers when he became majority leader. More important, the Hammer left many nails behind among the lower tier of House GOP leadership members, committee chairmen, party spokesmen and fundraisers he propelled to power. These are the people who will shape the GOP’s agenda for years to come. Here are five disciples who are carrying on DeLay’s legacy.
(age 43). A fast-rising third-term Congressman, Cantor distinguished himself as DeLay’s “chief defender,” according to Roll Call. He was appointed chief deputy majority whip–the fourth most powerful position in the House–at the ripe age of 39. Cantor became the youngest member of the House leadership after a DeLay staffer recommended he be named Blunt’s deputy over a host of older and more qualified candidates. Thus, when DeLay’s ethical problems piled up in 2004 and ’05, the Virginian held countless press conferences and strategy sessions with conservative activists to protect his leader.
As the only Jewish Republican in the House, Cantor provides a crucial link between pro-Israel donors and Christian conservatives. Through his seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which oversees tax law and Social Security, Cantor raised more money for his colleagues than any other House Republican in the last election cycle. Like DeLay, Cantor is also tied to Abramoff, having accepted $13,000 from the disgraced lobbyist’s Indian clients, written letters on behalf of tribes and held eight events at Abramoff’s restaurant, Signatures. Cantor even had a sandwich named after him at Abramoff’s deli, Stacks: the Eric Cantor, a “tuna-based stacker,” changed by Cantor to roast beef on challah.
(age 51). As vice chairman of the Republican Conference Committee and the number-six House Republican, Georgia’s Kingston sculpts the GOP’s message, producing talking points for fellow members and soundbites for conservative media. National Journal rated him the most conservative Congressman in 2004. But unlike DeLay, Kingston is an affable, smooth Southerner who jokes with Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher. Kingston’s relentless defense of DeLay at times merited its own comedy show. When the TV series Law & Order referred to DeLay negatively in one episode, Kingston accused the show of associating his boss with a “racist, anti-Semitic judge killer.” After Representative Chris Bell filed an ethics complaint against DeLay resulting in an unprecedented three rebukes, Kingston called it a “nonstory.” When DeLay received two indictments in Texas on money-laundering charges, Kingston circulated a glossy brochure titled “The ‘Hammer’ Has a Big Heart,” boasting of DeLay’s “affections for his bichons frisés, Baily and Taylor, and his miniature dachshund, Scooter,” reported the Washington Post. Describing how DeLay maintained his resilience, Kingston said, “he knows Jesus personally.”
(age 30). The youngest member of the 109th Congress, McHenry is the “it” boy of the GOP establishment. DeLay recently named McHenry one of his potential successors, an endorsement the freshman accepted enthusiastically. “I’m blown away,” McHenry told the Washington Times. “I’m so excited that Tom DeLay would say that about me”–a fitting compliment to a pupil who’s earned a reputation as the party’s “attack-dog-in-training.” DeLay was the first Washington pol to contact McHenry after he won the Republican primary in North Carolina’s rural 10th Congressional district, promptly sending his campaign $10,000. Upon election, DeLay shepherded McHenry through Washington, with cushy seats on the Budget and Financial Services committees, a communications position within the GOP’s fundraising arm and a role in Blunt’s whip operation. McHenry returned the favors by attacking House minority leader Nancy Pelosi for alleged travel violations and by voting, along with just nineteen other Republicans, to rewrite House ethics rules permanently to insulate DeLay. McHenry’s clearly a quick learner: He’s hired Grover Norquist’s press secretary and dated a former assistant of Karl Rove.