Video: Tom DeLay Plays Hardball
updated 1/30/2006 9:20:19 PM ET 2006-01-31T02:20:19

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) spoke with Chris Matthews about the fight he’ll wage for his seat in Texas, the landscape of politics in his state and his controversial trip to Scotland. DeLay says it is “incredibly unfair” to say he took a trip to Scotland as a “junket” and asserts that a “legitimate conservative organization” paid for the trip. 

Here is an excerpt of that interview. Click the 'launch' button on the right to watch the video.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST 'HARDBALL':  Mr. Delay, how many times have you been elected down in this part of the country?

TOM DELAY (R-Tex.):  Oh mercy, ten times.

MATTHEWS:  Ten times. And here you are fighting a tough election.  Do you think it’s going to be a tough one?

DELAY:  It’s going to be a very tough one.  It’s going to be a national election.  We have all the’s down here. They’ve been down here for over a year.  All the leftists groups have been down here…doing the telephones.  This is a national campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  Is the vote for this House seat, your seat, as a member of leadership and a very powerful Republican, is this about a national decision or is this about a local decision?

DELAY:  No, this is a national decision.  The Democrats have been planning this for a long time.  They announced it-they announced their politics of personal destruction two years ago and the character assassination is part of their strategy.  They don’t have an agenda and so they’re trying to get the House back by destroying people and their families. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do these rank and file Democrats make you a target?  Why do they hate you?

DELAY:  Well I hope that they hate me because I’m effective, because I get things done.  We’ve had an eleven year run of a Republican majority doing things that I’m incredibly proud of: cutting taxes, strong national defense, welfare reform, balancing the budget, paying down on the debt.  I mean, one thing after another, we’ve been effective on it and the Democrats don’t like it.

MATTHEWS:  So you’ve got Ronnie Earle, the District Attorney down here, the prosecutor going after you, are you going to be able to get a trial out of him before the election? 

DELAY:  Well I hope so.  I have demanded my rights to a speedy trial; unfortunately Ronnie

Chris Matthews and Tom Delay
Earle is filing frivolous appeals to drag it out as long as he wants.  He’s been dragging my name through the mud for three years now and he’s going to try to drag it out, try to influence the election, that’s the way he operates.

MATTHEWS:  Is he going to try to hold the election, I mean try to hold the trial, after the election?

DELAY:  He doesn’t care when you hold the trial, just so long as they don’t hold it before the election.

MATTHEWS:  Do you need an acquittal?  To win the election; do you have to have an acquittal before the election to clear this air?

DELAY: Oh, I would like one, but my constituents know what’s going on here. They’ve looked at this case, they understand it, they’ve been very very supportive they know what Ronnie Earle is-a runaway district attorney who is abusing his power, indicting me on laws that don’t exist.  They understand what this is all about.  And, and, then it’s also supported by all these leftist groups that are in here right now.  The backlash is in my favor.

MATTHEWS: He indicted you on one count and then he came back and indicted you again and then it turns out if first attempt to indict you failed-it was thrown out.

DELAY:No, well, his first attempt to indict me was on a law that didn’t exist.  And when he found that out he went to two other grand juries, uh, within four days, one of them "No Billed" me? That should have been the end of it.  Then he got a brand new grand jury that didn’t even go through orientation and he got them to indict me on another law that didn’t make sense.

MATTHEWS:  How do you tell people down here that have voted for you all these times, that this problem is purely partisan?  How do-do you have to sit one on one with people?  Some people say where there’s smoke there’s fire.  How do you convince them that it’s just smoke?

DELAY:I don’t have to. They know who I am.  They’ve worked very closely with me.  I’ve worked very hard in this district to build infrastructure, to work on charities, to work with kids, to work with the poor, NASA, Ellington Field, all these things that I’ve worked with, local elected officials and my constituents, they know who I am.  And they know this is all bogus. And the support I’m seeing over the past few weeks has proved it.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe you’re going to be able to hold your base-your Republican base?

DELAY:  Oh absolutely.  I mean, just last week alone I had five meet and greets packed.  I went to six events that had over 400 people at each one of them.  I got standing ovations just by being introduced at these organizations.  We picked up 500 volunteers last week alone.  We’re doing fine.

MATTHEWS: Well what’s it feel like when somebody comes up to you and says what’s all this stink about?

DELAY:  They don’t.  They know what it’s about.  They don’t question me on it. 

MATTHEWS:  The Abramoff thing in Washington, there’s a lot of your former staff people involved with him.  Does that bother you?

DELAY:  Not at all.

MATTHEWS:  Michael Scanlon, people like that who you trusted are now right in the middle of this thing talking to the prosecutors.

DELAY:  I think that’s really unfortunate that they broke the law and they’ve been found guilty breaking it.  I had nothing to do with that.  I’ve done nothing wrong.  I haven’t broken any laws.   I have no problem.

MATTHEWS:  You don’t think that the prosecution will try to squeeze one of them, to try to get them to say something against you?

DELAY:  There’s nothing they can say against me unless they lie.  I’ve had it all checked out by my lawyers and everything that we’ve done has a clean bill of health. Department of Justice has told my lawyers on several occasions that I’m not a target of this investigation.  We have no problem here.  All we have are leftist groups trying to create a sense of guilt by association in this case.  They can not tell you or charge me with one thing that’s against the law or against the House rules or even unethical. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make about the Democratic opposition?  Pelosi, she’s running for Speaker obviously, if they pick up fifteen seats she’ll be the candidate for Speaker.  When I talked to your potential opponent, Mr. Lamson, he said I think rather carefully, he could see himself voting for Nancy Pelosi.

DELAY:I’ll bet.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think-why is he being so careful?

DELAY:Because Nancy Pelosi,, George Soros, Howard Dean, not very popular people in the 22nd district of Texas and he’s going to try to do both which he’s always done in his career.  Trying to appear to be moderate to conservative to the constituency and then go to Washington and be buddies with Nancy Pelosi, voting with her 90-95 per cent of the time. 

MATTHEWS:  What happened to that old conservative, democratic tradition down here that’s going-those concerns have all become Republicans, right?

DELAY:  Conservative Democrats have all become Republicans.

MATTHEWS:  Do you expect George Bush senior or the president to come in and help you in this campaign?

DELAY:  Well we just had the vice president in just last month and raised a good amount of money for this.  I’m very proud of that.  Uh, I don’t know what the future holds as far as the president, but he’s very supportive.

MATTHEWS: Are you worried that the Democrats will be able to use iconic pictures, that’s probably a fancy word, but graphic pictures like golfing in Scotland, to bring you down?

DELAY:Oh sure they’ll try all of that.  I mean they want to lie about what’s going on.  I’m very involved in international affairs. That Israel is against the religious persecution in China; or for Taiwan-against China; getting persecuted Jews out of Russia.  I’ve been involved in a lot of foreign affairs.  Uh, yes, when I go over somewhere for that I take a day off or a half a day off and I play golf. 

MATTHEWS: But there’s no religious persecution in Scotland.

DELAY:  No, but Margaret Thatcher was in England and I met with a lot of conservative organizations trying to them win against the Labor Party.  I was very involved with the conservative movement in England. 

MATTHEWS:  So that picture of you-that picture we keep seeing of St. Andrews-I’m not much of a golfer but, you’re a better golfer obviously-but do you think that’s unfair to say that you went over there on a junket?

DELAY:It’s incredibly unfair.

MATTHEWS:  Why?  Who paid for the trip?

DELAY:  A legitimate conservative organization. 

MATTHEWS:  But wasn’t there a pass through?

DELAY:No, there was no pass through.

MATTHEWS:  They came up with the money themselves.

DELAY:That’s exactly right. They raised their money themselves.

MATTHEWS:  That public policy group…

DELAY:  That’s exactly right.

MATTHEWS:  So you don’t have any problem with that trip?

DELAY:  Not at all.

MATTHEWS:  Nobody’s asked you about it down here.

DELAY:Uh, not really, no.  Actually, a lot of people play golf down here.

MATTHEWS:  But not in Scotland.

DELAY:It’s good to play golf down here.

MATTHEWS:  But not in Scotland.

DELAY:Many of them down here go to Scotland---

MATTHEWS:  I mean everybody knows that you’re a tough Republican, conservative, who gives his life for the cause.  You’re not in it for the money or the lifestyle.

DELAY:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And I don’t even hear that from your critics, okay.  But they say that you’re too tough, that you play too hard, that you cut the corners to get done what you have to get done politically like soft money, hard money, all that complicated stuff. 

DELAY:They hate it because they’re losing.  I have built a huge coalition to support our agenda of a limited government, strong national defense, protecting American families against overactive judiciary.  We have built big coalitions outside coalitions, grassroots operations to fancy that and get it done.  Democrats hate it that I’m effective.  They just hate it. And that’s just too bad, but we’re going to keep on working as hard as we can for the conservative agenda for the future of this country. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you like to chair the Appropriations Committee?

DELAY:No, I’d like to continue to advance our agenda.

MATTHEWS:  But since you’ve left leadership, do you intend to go back to leadership if you get re-elected?  Do you intend to go back into that leadership world?

DELAY:I don’t know.  I’ve had ups and downs throughout my career.  I have never lost focus on our  agenda.  So I’m going to work on our agenda.

MATTHEWS:  Okay, let me talk about your agenda down here in the 22nd.When Robert Bird, the former Democratic leader, had served his time as leader he decided to find a new power base which was Chairman of Appropriations, so he could  really deliver for West Virginia.  He’s practically paved the damn state he’s built so much there, right? Do you think of that as your next career period where you aren’t formally in the leadership but you’re using your Appropriations Committee to help this district?

DELAY:No. I’m focused of course on working with my district.  There’s a lot of work to be done here and this is the highest growth area in the nation and we’ve got to have infrastructure here.  And Johnson Space Center is incredibly important and we want to advance President’s agenda.  Working through Homeland Security through Ellington Field here is very important. And many others, the medical center, the port, a lot of things I need to be working on. But I also work on the fact that I want to throw the tax code out and replace it with a national sales tax.  I want to stop the judiciary from attacking and destroying American families.  I want, I want to continue and win this war on terror and protect our borders and there’s so much more to do and I’m going to continue to do that. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about your generosity.  To build the Republican party and the congressional delegation, the Republican delegation here in Texas, you gave up a lot of Republican territory.          

DELAY:  True.

MATTHEWS:  Do you wish you had held onto it?


MATTHEWS:  You can still win this seat with a lot less Republican votes.

DELAY:Sure.  All you need is 51 percent to win. 

MATTHEWS:  But you gave away a lot didn’t you?

DELAY:  I did. 

MATTHEWS:  Why’d you do it?

DELAY:  I went from about a 63% district to a 55% district.

MATTHEWS:  Why were you so generous with other members? Because you actually created some new congressional opportunities?

DELAY:  Well first of all I had to show leadership in order to get other members to take less Republican districts so that you could spread the Republicans around over the  whole state and if I didn't, if I didn't show myself as a role model, I couldn’t ask other members to give up their Republicans

MATTHEWS:  Would you rather run in your own district - when this court throws at you redistricting,  you might end up in the old district with your old 2002 seat.

DELAY:  Nah, this, I mean, the base is still intact, I’m very solid with my base and the odds, we took on some union-type Democrats.  Not enough for them to win the seat.

MATTHEWS:  What I’ve learned coming down here Congressman, I thought you’d have an all-white, you know Protestant whatever, Anglo community down here.  You’ve got a helluva lot of diversity in this district.


MATTHEWS:  You’ve got big numbers of African-Americans, big numbers of latinos.

DELAY:Asians, huge numbers of Asians.

MATTHEWS:  I saw alot of that.

DELAY:  A lot of Asians, both Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Pakistanis, Hispanics, blacks, this is an incredible district.  We have great diversity.

This is six years of raising private funds, of a dream that is actually my wife’s, that became mine, when she started working with abused and neglected children.  We became foster parents and through that, saw how awful the government-run system is, and we designed a different way of taking care of foster children, giving them a safe permanent home.  See right now in the system, they are moved from home to home to home.  Our first foster child was in sixteen different homes in her teenage years. 

Here they come in and they move in here and that it.  We will never kick them out, we will never move them  out, if anybody gets moved out, it will be the foster parents.  And when they turn eighteen, when the government says you’re on your own, they can come back.  this is something we got from Israel - they can come back, we’ll have places for them to stay, they can visit their, you know, come back for Thanksgiving, Christmas, cry on a shoulder, whatever they want to come back to.  It gives them a sense of permanency and

MATTHEWS:  What kind of families do they come from?

DELAY:These are severely abused children.  These are children that somebody’s stepfather has been raping her since she was three years old, beatings, mothers on drugs.

MATTHEWS:  So the kids are teens. 

DELAY:No, they’re usually coming here, they’re going to be from, we got twenty-seven on hand here, they’re anywhere from nine years old up to eighteen.  Because these are children that nobody wants.  They have issues, they don’t want them, they just warehouse them, and what we want to do is give them a safe permanent home and deal with their issues.

MATTHEWS:  And who are the adults here?

DELAY:These are Christian foster parents that want to embrace children.


DELAY:  That we have recruited.

MATTHEWS:  Young families?

DELAY:Some young, mostly young, have their own families.  Each house has a three-bedroom apartment inside the house, for the family and because dealing with these children is very taxing and they get burned out, so we want to make sure they can take time off and shut off part of their house, bring in a nanny to stay with the kids while they take the weekend off.  In New York, when we were holding fundraisers to raise money for this, we anticipated raising about three million dollars.  And then they killed all that by using what his name that is running for governor? For attorney general?

MATTHEWS:  Are people living here now?

DELAY:Not in this house. We’ve got eight houses, six of them have kids in them now, we’re interviewing parents for these two houses, everything is designed with the kids in mind, as you can see each one of the bedrooms are all big.

MATTHEWS:  I’d like to live here! 

DELAY:Isn’t it nice? Each room so that you can watch the kids through their bedrooms but if they’re going to use the computer, they’ll be in there so you can see what they’re using it for, so its all designed so that you can interact with the kids.

MATTHEWS:  Do you have any crime problems? 

DELAY:Not out here no.

MATTHEWS:  The kids don’t misbehave that bad?

DELAY:No, if you show them love and give them trust, they respond. If you just warehouse them, they don respond.  they go in and get involved in bad things.

MATTHEWS:  Its pretty impressive

DELAY:  Its even larger than we dreamed

MATTHEWS:  What’s the larger community here?

DELAY:  There’s the county seat is Richmond Texas, and this county, this is where Texas started.  Steven F. Austin settled this area.  All the great Texans came from this area, this, where this place is right now is Fort Dade county and the bend of the river is right here and where the fork was, and so its a great longtime Texas history.

MATTHEWS:  So you actually live here in the 22nd


MATTHEWS:  And your opponent, your Democratic opponent, the guy who is probably going to win the Democratic nomination Nick Lampson, former Congressman, he lives outside the district?

DELAY:He lives in Beaumont. 

MATTHEWS:  And that’s outside the district. That’s pretty far from here.

DELAY:  He’ll claim to live in the district.  ITs over 100 miles from here.  He’s the only Democrat they’ve been able to get to run.

MATTHEWS:  Haven’t they encouraged him to move?

DELAY:  Oh of course and he claims the local address for his home.

MATTHEWS:  But that’s not where his bed is.

DELAY:  It’s not where his family is.

MATTHEWS:  Is that going to be an issue? 

DELAY:  Well I dont know that its going to be an issue.

MATTHEWS:  You know in Massachusetts they call those guys mattress-draggers.  They drag their mattresses from one district to another, looking for a seat. 

DELAY:  Well I don’t know, I’m sure we’ll be able to explain that to my constituency during the upcoming election

MATTHEWS:  So this is Texas weather huh?

DELAY:This is Texas winter.  This is as bad as it gets.For the last four weeks, its been seventy-two degrees.

MATTHEWS:  Okay I’ve got to ask you a cosmic question, you’re Tom Delay.  You’re not in this business for the money.  You live modestly.  You commute back and forth from Washington to Houston, Texas.  Why?  What drives you every day?

DELAY:It’s what I believe in, the Constitution of the United States, Ronald Reagan got me involved in this. I fight every day for what I believe in:  Strong national security, protecting the American family, values. I want to see this country led in a different direction than when I found it, when I got in politics twenty-some years ago.

MATTHEWS:  What’s it feel like to get up every morning knowing there’s a lot of Democrats and some prosecutors who may be Democrats themselves who get up every morning  with the idea of bringing you down?

DELAY:That’s their problem, not mine.  I stay focused on what I’m trying to do for my district and for this state and for this country.

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