From the New York Times:
President Bush offered a gesture of support today for Tom DeLay, the embattled House majority leader, by giving him a ride back to Washington from their home state of Texas aboard Air Force One.
Mr. Bush is near the end of a 60-day series of personal forays around the country to build support for his efforts to overhaul the Social Security system and offer workers the chance to divert some of their payroll taxes into personal investment accounts that they would manage for themselves. With opinion polls showing only tepid public support for the plan, Congress began hearings today on ways to overhaul Social Security, and Democratic leaders held rallies in New York and Washington to express opposition to the president’s proposals.
Mr. Bush used the occasion of his own rally, in Galveston, to express support for Mr. DeLay at a time when he has come under heavy fire from Democrats, and even some Republicans have expressed misgivings about his future.
“I appreciate the leadership of Congressman Tom DeLay, in working on important issues that matter to the country,” Mr. Bush said, crediting the powerful house leader with pushing energy and medical liability legislation through the House.
Mr. DeLay, whose Congressional district is near Galveston, sat in the audience, several rows back from the stage where Mr. Bush spoke.
Mr. DeLay is facing questions about possible House ethics violations involving his overseas travel and ties to lobbyists. His activities are also being examined by a state grand jury in Texas that has indicted two close political operatives on charges of illegal fund-raising. Mr. DeLay has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, and said in a recent letter to constituents that the accusations against him were being raised by a “legion of Democrat-friendly press.”
As Mr. Bush continues to try to push his Social Security plans, he needs the support of powerful lawmakers like Mr. DeLay. But in the last few weeks, as questions about Mr. DeLay’s travels and who paid for them have mounted, the president has been careful in the way he has shown support for his fellow Texan.
Two weeks ago, when the chief White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, was asked about the president’s support for the lawmaker, he said the president backed what Mr. DeLay and other Congressional leaders were doing “to move forward on the agenda that the American people want us to enact.”
But Mr. McClellan was careful in answering a question about whether the president and Mr. DeLay were close, suggesting the relationship was more business than social.
“Sure,” Mr. McClellan said, when asked if the president considered Mr. DeLay a friend. But he went on to add that “I think there are different levels of friendship with anybody.”
Today, when reporters pressed him on how strongly Mr. Bush was supporting Mr. DeLay, Mr. McClellan responded, “Strongly as he ever has, which is strongly.”
What a great idea. When Bush’s Social Security plan goes down like the Titanic, he can tag Tom DeLay with the blame: “See, it woulda passed, but Tom DeLay insisted on tagging along on the tour and he screwed it all up. I don’t even know the guy!”
At least when the Titanic went down, the captain went with it. And they had a band.