WASHINGTON – For President Bush, Tom DeLay has been a “very effective” leader in the House and a big help in pushing the Republican agenda through a closely divided Congress.
“We’ve gotten a lot done in the Legislature,” Bush said Thursday, looking ahead to getting even “more done.”
But those who know the two men from Texas don’t expect DeLay to show up anytime soon at the president’s ranch, or head out with him for golf.
“There is a strain,” acknowledged one national GOP leader, who like many senior Republicans is not eager to talk about DeLay as he struggles under a barrage of ethics questions that threaten to erode his power on Capitol Hill.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who handles many of the inquiries, says the two are “friends,” just friends, not “social friends.”
On Wednesday, DeLay, R-Texas, was at the White House twice, meeting with the president and the other top Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, then again with just GOP leaders.
Each time, the embattled leader came – and went – through a side door so he wouldn’t be besieged by reporters as he is everywhere these days on Capitol Hill.
On Thursday during a meeting with newspaper editors, the president was asked whether he agreed with DeLay’s assertion that the ethics questions swirling about him have been largely fueled by the “liberal news media.”
“Of course not,” Bush said, laughing.
He sidestepped a follow-up question, though, about whether DeLay had become a liability for fellow Republicans and the White House agenda.
“I’m looking forward to working with him,” Bush said, noting that DeLay has now pledged to “talk to the ethics committee.”