A series of scandals involving some of the most powerful Republicans in Washington have converged to disrupt President Bush's agenda, distract aides and allies, and exacerbate political problems for an already weakened administration, according to party strategists and White House advisers.
Bush's main partners on Capitol Hill likewise are spending time defending themselves as the president's legislative initiatives founder. The indictment of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) for alleged campaign funding illegalities has thrown Republicans into one of the most tumultuous periods of their 11-year reign and created the prospect of a leadership battle. And while Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) deals with a subpoena in an insider-trading investigation, a bipartisan majority rebuked Bush over torture policies.
With Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove returning to a grand jury as early as today, associates said the architect of Bush's presidency has been preoccupied with his legal troubles, a diversion that some say contributed to the troubled handling of Harriet Miers's nomination to the Supreme Court. White House officials are privately bracing for the possibility that Rove or other officials could be indicted in the next two weeks.
"The Rove thing has gotten to be enormously distracting," said one outside adviser to the White House. "Knowing the way the White House works, being under subpoena like this, your mind is not on your work, it's on that."
"It looks like a perfect storm," said Joseph E. diGenova, a Republican and former independent counsel, who noted that so many investigations can weigh on an administration. "People have no idea what happens when an investigation gets underway. It's debilitating. It's not just distracting. It's debilitating. It's like getting punched in the stomach."
But, on the other hand...
...[S]candal historically has ripened in second terms, including Watergate for Richard M. Nixon, the Iran-contra affair for Ronald Reagan, and the Monica S. Lewinsky investigation for Bill Clinton. "It always comes back," said Larry J. Sabato, a University of Virginia scholar who has written on Washington scandals. "There may be a couple of dry years occasionally, but it is a style of American politics -- always has been, always will be. And now it's back with a vengeance."
..."Some of it is cyclical politically," said Leonard A. Leo, who has taken leave as executive vice president of the conservative Federalist Society to help promote the Miers nomination. "And some of it, I'll be honest, is when the left and the Democrats are losing the battle of ideas, they turn to manufacturing scandal."
In the end, some Republicans argue, it will not add up to much or turn off voters. "I don't think people feel there is a sleaze factor at all," said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), adding that most voters are more aggrieved over excessive spending and gas prices.