DeLay was first elected to the House in 1984. He became known as "The Hammer" for his enforcement of party discipline in close votes and his reputation for taking political retribution on opponents. He was appointed Deputy Minority Whip in 1988 and was elected House Majority Whip in 1995 after helping Newt Gingrich to lead the Republican Revolution. In the 1990s, he helped to start the K Street Project, an effort to pressure lobbying firms to hire Republicans to top positions. DeLay was elected House Majority Leader after the 2002 midterm elections, and compelled House Republicans to unite to an unprecedented degree, especially in support of President George W. Bush's agenda.
In the early 2000s, DeLay helped to coordinate efforts to redistrict congressional districts in Texas to favor the election of more Republicans.
In 2005, a Texas grand jury indicted DeLay on criminal charges that he had conspired to violate campaign finance laws during that period. DeLay denied the charges and pleaded not guilty, saying they were politically motivated and the law he was indicted under did not apply until later, but Republican Conference rules forced him to resign temporarily from his position as Majority Leader. He is is still awaiting trial. In January 2006, under pressure from fellow Republicans, DeLay announced that he would not seek to return to the position. In the months before and after this decision, two of his former aides were convicted in the Jack Abramoff scandal. DeLay ran for re-election in 2006, and won the Republican primary election in March 2006, but, citing the possibility of losing the general election, he announced in April 2006 that he would withdraw from the race and resign his seat in Congress. He resigned on June 9, 2006, and sought to remove his name from the ballot. The court battle that followed forced him to remain on the ballot, despite having withdrawn from the race.
After much judicial wrangling, DeLay's name was not on the ballot on election day. There were two elections for the House seat, a special election to fill the vacancy created by DeLay's resignation and the general election for the 110th Congress. In the general election there were three main candidates. Democrat and former US Representative Nick Lampson, Libertarian Party candidate Bob Smither, and Republican Shelley Sekula-Gibbs. Only Lampson's and Smither's names appeared on the ballot, as Sekula-Gibbs had to run as a write-in candidate because DeLay had previously won the Republican primary.
DeLay received a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in biology from the University of Houston in 1970. He spent three years working for Redwood Chemical. This work was the source for his nickname "the Exterminator". In the 11 years DeLay ran the company, the IRS imposed tax liens on him three times for not paying payroll and income taxes. The United States Environmental Protection Agency's ban on a certain pesticide that was used in extermination work led DeLay to oppose government regulation of businesses, a belief that he has carried with him throughout his political career.
DeLay has declined to comment on reports in The New Yorker that he is estranged from much of his family, including his mother and one of his brothers. DeLay has not spoken to his younger brother, Randy, a Houston lobbyist, since 1996, when a complaint to the House Ethics Committee prompted Tom DeLay to cut his brother off in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
DeLay was elected to the House in 1984, representing the Texas 22nd congressional district, after his predecessor, Republican Ron Paul, declined to run for re-election to run in the Republican primary for the 1984 U.S. Senate race.
No one close to DeLay corroborated that DeLay attempted to serve in the military. The Washington Post reported that he had received student deferments while at Baylor, and had kept the deferment after his expulsion from Baylor in 1967. He received a high draft lottery number in 1969, and graduated from the University of Houston in 1970.
DeLay was appointed deputy whip by then-Minority Whip Dick Cheney in 1988. When the Republican Party gained control of the House in 1995 following the 1994 election, DeLay was elected Majority Whip against the wishes of House Speaker-elect Newt Gingrich.
DeLay was not always on good terms with Gingrich or Dick Armey, the House Majority Leader from 1995 to 2003, and he reportedly considered them uncommitted to Christian values. In 1997 DeLay unsuccessfully tried to remove Gingrich from his position as Speaker. Nevertheless, in the heyday of the 104th Congress (1995–1997), DeLay described the Republican leadership as a triumvirate of Gingrich, "the visionary"; Armey, "the policy wonk"; and himself, "the ditch digger who makes it all happen".
In keeping with his opposition to environmental regulation, DeLay criticized proposals to phase out the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which lead to the depletion of the ozone layer. In 1995, DeLay introduced a bill to revoke the CFC ban and to repeal provisions of the Clean Air Act dealing with stratospheric ozone, arguing that the science underlying the ban was debatable.
As Majority Whip, DeLay earned the nickname "The Hammer" for his enforcement of party discipline in close votes and his reputation for wreaking political vengeance on opponents. DeLay has expressed a liking for his nickname, pointing out that the hammer is one of a carpenter's most valuable tools. In the 104th Congress, DeLay successfully whipped 300 out of 303 bills.
In 1998, DeLay worked to ensure that the House vote on impeaching President Bill Clinton was successful. DeLay rejected efforts to censure Clinton, who, DeLay said, had lied under oath. DeLay believed that the U.S. Constitution allowed the House to punish the president only through impeachment. He called on Clinton to resign and personally compelled enough House members to vote to approve two articles of impeachment.
The plaintiff in that suit, Robert Blankenship, charged that DeLay and a third partner in Albo Pest Control had breached the partnership agreement by trying to force him out of the business without buying him out. Blankenship filed suit, charging DeLay and the other partner with breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, wrongful termination, and loss of corporate expectancy. While being deposed in that suit, DeLay claimed that he did not think that he was an officer or director of Albo and that he believed that he had resigned two or three years previously. However, his congressional disclosure forms, including one filed subsequent to the deposition, stated that he was either president or chairman of the company between 1985 and 1994. Blankenship also alleged that Albo money had been spent on DeLay's congressional campaigns, in violation of federal and state law.
DeLay and Blankenship settled for an undisclosed sum. Blankenship's attorney said that had he known about the congressional disclosure forms, he would have referred the case to the Harris County district attorney's office for a perjury prosecution. DeLay has never been charged with a crime in connection with this case.
After being indicted on September 28, 2005, DeLay stepped down from his position as Majority Leader. He was the first congressional leader ever to be indicted. Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri took over as acting leader. On January 7, 2006, after weeks of growing pressure from Republican colleagues, and particularly from Reps. Charlie Bass and Jeff Flake, who wanted to avoid being associated with DeLay's legal issues in an election year, DeLay announced that he would not seek to regain his position as Majority Leader.
Employing a method known as "catch and release," DeLay allowed centrist or moderately conservative Republicans to take turns voting against controversial bills. If a representative said that a bill was unpopular in his district, then DeLay would ask him to vote for it only if his vote were necessary for passage; if his vote were not needed, then the representative would be able to vote against the party without reprisal.
In the 108th Congress, a preliminary Medicare vote passed 216-215, a vote on Head Start passed 217-216, a vote on school vouchers for Washington, D.C. passed 209-208, and "Fast track," usually called "trade promotion authority", passed by one vote as well. Both political supporters and opponents remarked on DeLay's ability to sway the votes of his party, a method DeLay described as "growing the vote".
DeLay was also noted for involving lobbyists in the process of passing House bills. One lobbyist said, "I've had members pull me aside and ask me to talk to another member of Congress about a bill or amendment, but I've never been asked to work on a bill — at least like they are asking us to whip bills now.
DeLay's ability to raise money gave him additional influence. During the 2004 election cycle, DeLay's political action committee ARMPAC was one of the top contributors to Republican congressional candidates, contributing over $980,000 in total. Partly as a result of DeLay's management abilities, the House Republican caucus under him displayed unprecedented, sustained party cohesion.
On September 30, 2004, the House Ethics Committee unanimously admonished DeLay because he "offered to endorse Representative [[Nick Smith (U.S. politician)|[Nick] Smith]]'s son in exchange for Representative Smith's vote in favor of the Medicare bill.
DeLay was rated a 2.77 out of 100 by the Progressive Punch website for his votes regarding corporate subsidies, government checks on corporate power, human rights and civil liberties, labor rights and environmental policy.
On economic policy, DeLay was rated 95 out of 100 by Americans for Tax Reform, and 95 to 100 by the United States Chamber of Commerce, a pro-business lobby. On environmental policy, he earned ratings of zero from the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters. He has been a fervent critic of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, which he has called the "Gestapo of government". DeLay is for gun rights in the gun politics debate. The American Civil Liberties Union measured that his voting history aligned with their civil liberties platform zero percent of the time.
DeLay blamed Senate Democrats and what he called "BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) environmentalists" for blocking legislative solutions to problems such as the 2003 North America blackout.
DeLay maintained public silence on Houston's 2003 METRORail light rail initiative, though in the past, he had opposed expanding light rail to Houston. Public filings later showed that DeLay had his Americans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee (ARMPAC) and his congressional campaign committee send money to Texans for True Mobility, an organization that advocated against the initiative. The proposal passed by a slim margin. Despite his earlier opposition, following the passage of the initiative, DeLay helped to obtain funding for the light rail program.
DeLay is pro-life. In 2005, he voted 100 percent in line with the views of the National Right to Life Committee and zero percent with the National Abortion Reproductive Rights Action League.
DeLay supported the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005. Critics of this law argued that it unduly favors creditors over consumers, and noted that the credit card industry spent millions of dollars lobbying in support of the act.
In 2004, the House Ethics Committee unanimously admonished DeLay for his actions related to a 2002 energy bill. A Committee memo stated that DeLay "created the appearance that donors were being provided with special access to Representative DeLay regarding the then-pending energy legislation.
In 2005, DeLay, acting against the president's wishes, initiated the "safe harbor" provision for MTBE in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, together with Rep. Joe Barton. This provision would have retroactively protected the makers of the gasoline additive from lawsuits. The provision was dropped from the final bill.
DeLay opposes the teaching of the theory of evolution. After the Columbine High School massacre, he entered into the congressional record a statement saying that shootings happened in part "because our school systems teach our children that they are nothing but glorified apes who have evolutionized [sic] out of some primordial soup of mud.
On a 2003 trip to Israel, DeLay toured the nation and addressed members of the Knesset. His opposition to land concessions is so strong that Aryeh Eldad, the deputy of Israel's conservative National Union Party, remarked, "As I shook his hand, I told Tom DeLay that until I heard him speak, I thought I was farthest to the right in the Knesset. Former Mossad chief Danny Yatom said "The Likud is nothing compared to this guy.
In 2005, in a snub to the Bush administration, DeLay was the "driving force behind the rejection of direct aid" to the Palestinian Authority. The deal was "brokered" by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. In the wake of the legislation, some Jewish leaders expressed concern "about the degree to which the Texas Republican, an evangelical Christian who opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, will go to undercut American and Israeli attempts to achieve a two-state solution.
DeLay also founded a community known as Rio Bend. This community has a mission to provide a home and community for abused and neglected children in the foster care system. The ground breaking ceremony was in September 2003 and the grand opening for the Christ-centered community was in August 2005. The intention is to build additional 24 homes to this community. Later, the DeLays would like to change the landscape of the foster system throughout the states and use the Rio Bend community as a model.
U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut) requested an investigation into DeLay's involvement in the requests, and asked that any White House involvement be reported. The House Ethics Committee admonished DeLay for improper use of FAA resources, and for involving federal agencies in a matter that should have been resolved by Texas authorities.
In 1999, DeLay was privately reprimanded by the House Ethics Committee after he pulled an important intellectual property rights bill off of the House floor when the Electronics Industries Alliance hired a former Democratic Congressman, Dave McCurdy.
Firms initially responded to the campaign, but it waned during 2004, when the possibility of Senator John Kerry's winning the presidency gave lobbying firms some incentive to hire Democrats.
DeLay has long been a strong critic of Cuban leader Fidel Castro's regime, which DeLay has called a "thugocracy", and a supporter of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. However, in April 2005, Time Magazine published a photo from a government-funded July 2003 trip to Israel, in which DeLay is seen smoking a Cuban cigar. The consumption or purchase of Cuban cigars is illegal in the United States (but was, at the time, not illegal abroad). Since September 2004, the U.S. Treasury Department's enforcement of the law has been toughened to forbid consumption (smoking) or purchase of Cuban cigars by U.S. citizens anywhere in the world.
DeLay was accused of endorsing violence in the wake of a series of high-profile violent crimes and death threats against judges when he said, "The men responsible [for Terri Schiavo's death] will have to answer to their behavior." DeLay's comments came soon after the February 28, 2005 homicide of the mother and husband of Chicago Judge Joan Lefkow, and the March 11, 2005 killing of Atlanta Judge Rowland Barnes. DeLay's opponents accused him of rationalizing violence against judges when their decisions were unpopular with the public. Ralph Neas, President of People for the American Way, said that DeLay's comments were "irresponsible and could be seen by some as justifying inexcusable conduct against our courts. DeLay publicly apologized for the remark after being accused of threatening the Supreme Court.
DeLay may be one of the targets of the Justice Department investigation into Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff's actions. Abramoff allegedly provided DeLay with trips, gifts, and political donations in exchange for favors to Abramoff's lobbying clients, which included the government of the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Internet gambling services, and several Native American tribes. Two of DeLay's former political aides, Tony Rudy and Michael Scanlon, as well as Abramoff himself, pleaded guilty in 2006 to charges relating to the investigation. Political columnist Robert Novak has since reported that Abramoff "has no derogatory information about former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and is not implicating him as part of his plea bargain with federal prosecutors.
According to ABC's 20/20 television program, Abramoff lobbied DeLay to stop legislation banning sex shops and sweatshops that forced employees to have abortions in the Northern Mariana Islands when Abramoff accompanied DeLay on a 1997 trip to the U.S. commonwealth. While on the trip, DeLay promised not to put the bill on the legislative calendar.
In 2000, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a worker reform bill to extend the protection of U.S. labor and minimum-wage laws to the workers in the Northern Mariana Islands. DeLay, then the House Republican Whip, stopped the House from considering the bill. DeLay later blocked a fact-finding mission planned by Rep. Peter Hoekstra by threatening him with the loss of his subcommittee chairmanship.
DeLay received gifts from Abramoff, including paid golfing holidays to Scotland, concert tickets, and the use of Abramoff's private skyboxes for fundraisers. In May 2000, ARMPAC received the free use of one of Abramoff's private skyboxes to host a political fundraiser. At the time, campaign finance laws did not require the use of the skybox, valued at several thousand dollars, to be disclosed or for Abramoff to be reimbursed for its use.
Later that month, the DeLays, Rudy, another aide, and Abramoff took a trip to London and Scotland. Abramoff paid for the airfare for the trip, and lobbyist Ed Buckham paid for expenses at a hotel at St. Andrews golf course in Scotland. Abramoff was reimbursed by The National Center for Public Policy Research, the nonprofit organization that arranged the trip. On the day that the trip began, The National Center received large donations from two of Abramoff's clients, internet lottery service eLottery, Inc., and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. Both organizations denied that they had intended to pay for DeLay's trip. House rules forbid members to accept travel expenses from lobbyists, and require that members inquire into the sources of funds that nonprofits use to pay for trips. DeLay denied knowing that lobbyists had paid for travel expenses. In July 2000, DeLay voted against a bill that would have restricted Internet gambling. Both eLottery and the Choctaws opposed the bill. Rudy, who was then DeLay's deputy chief of staff, doomed the bill by engineering a parliamentary maneuver that required a two-thirds majority vote, rather than a simple majority, in order for the bill to pass. Rudy's actions on behalf of Abramoff's clients during this time were mentioned in Abramoff's guilty plea in January 2006.
In January 2006, The Associated Press reported that in 2001, DeLay co-signed a letter to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft calling for the closure of a casino owned by the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas. Two weeks earlier, the Choctaws had donated $1,000 to DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority PAC (TRMPAC). A DeLay spokesman denied that the donations had influenced DeLay's actions. Currently, and at the time of the letter, casinos or other private gambling establishments are illegal in Texas, even on Indian reservations.
Scanlon, who became Abramoff's lobbying partner, pleaded guilty in November 2005 to conspiracy charges. Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy charges on January 3, 2006, and agreed to cooperate with the government's investigation. His cooperation may have forced DeLay to abandon his efforts to return to his position as House Majority Leader, a decision that DeLay announced only a few days after Abramoff's plea bargain. Rudy pleaded guilty on March 31, 2006, to illegally acting on Abramoff's behalf in exchange for gifts.
Abramoff referred clients to Ed Buckham's Alexander Strategy Group (ASG), a lobbying firm. In addition, Abramoff clients gave more than $1.5 million to Buckham's U.S. Family Network, which then paid ASG more than $1 million.
From 1998 to 2002, ASG paid Christine DeLay a monthly salary averaging between $3,200 and $3,400. DeLay's attorney, Richard Cullen, initially said the payments were for telephone calls she made periodically to the offices of certain members of Congress seeking the names of their favorite charities, and that she then forwarded that information to Buckham, along with some information about those charities. In early June 2006, Cullen said the payments were also for general political consulting she provided to her husband. In all, Christine DeLay was paid about $115,000 directly by ASG, and got another $25,000 via money put into a retirement account by the firm. Her work with ASG has been the subject of an inquiry by the Department of Justice.