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House Plans to Sit Out January

Late Start Could Aid DeLay

In the wake of Monday’s mixed court ruling on conspiracy and money laundering charges against Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), his chances of returning to the post of Majority Leader now hinge on two calendars — that of the House and that of the Texas judicial system. And while the latter schedule remains unclear, the former now appears to be working in the indicted lawmaker’s favor.

Though the official House calendar for 2006 has not yet been released, GOP leadership sources said they are close to announcing that the House will return for the second session of the 109th Congress on Jan. 31, the day President Bush is expected to deliver his State of the Union address.

With December’s traditional recess being eaten up by a busy legislative agenda, the leadership plans to give Members nearly all of January off despite the fact that the Senate will return for Supreme Court confirmation hearings on January 19. That means that the earliest a new set of leadership elections to permanently replace DeLay could occur is early February, buying the Texan valuable time during which his case could still be resolved through acquittal or dismissal of the remaining charges.

During his weekly session with reporters Tuesday, Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was asked whether, given the House schedule, February was the earliest time leadership elections could be held.

“I don’t know why I’d want to say that,” Blunt said, prompting laughter from the assembled press. “I believe Mr. DeLay’s situation will be resolved by then and it will be resolved to his satisfaction.”

Despite Blunt’s optimism, DeLay might need as many extra days as the House calendar would allow him, as his prospects for a speedy trial remain unclear.

Before a trial occurs, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle has until Dec. 20 to appeal Senior District Judge Pat Priest’s Monday ruling, which dismissed a charge against DeLay of conspiring to violate Texas election code but left in place charges of money laundering and conspiring to commit money laundering.

That appeal must be heard and ruled upon, and Priest must also still deal with a charge by DeLay’s lawyers of prosecutorial misconduct against Earle — which could result in the remaining charges being thrown out — as well as a defense motion to move the trial out of Austin.

Only after all of those legal steps have been taken would Priest set a trial date, meaning that proceedings could slip past January into the House session.

Despite those unresolved legal issues, DeLay’s camp remains confident that, if a trial occurs, it could be completed in plenty of time for him to return as Majority Leader.

“A trial could commence and be wrapped up in January,” said DeLay spokesman Kevin Madden. “We’ve had some sweeping legal victories in a pretty short period of time.”

Hoping to speed things along, DeLay attorney Dick DeGuerin sent a letter to Priest Tuesday requesting a quick timetable.

“I respectfully ask that the Court set down a date for the disposition of the remaining motions, and that that date be as soon as Monday, December 12; and I request that the court set a tentative trial date in early January,” DeGuerin wrote.

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