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Okay this ones an

Okay, this one's an original. We heard <$Ad$>from a reader this morning who told us that Rep. Rick Renzi's (R-AZ) office is telling constituents that he didn't get a chance to vote on the DeLay Rule because he's not a member of the Republican House Conference.

(Subsequently, we learned that another emailer got the same story.)

The TPM reader thought that sounded odd. But apparently the staffer was insistent. And it sounded awfully odd to me too since I thought every Republican member of the House is by definition a member of the Republican House Conference, just like every Dem is a member of the Democratic Caucus. (Sorta like every Major League Baseball team in the American league is also a member of the American League.)

So I dropped a note to a House GOP staffer friend of mine; and when he said that was his decided impression too, I felt that something might be seriously amiss. So I rung up Renzi's office and asked to speak with the staffer the TPM reader had spoken to.

I asked the guy if it was true that Rep. Renzi really wasn't a member of the House Republican Conference and whether the office was telling constituents that this was why he couldn't vote on the DeLay Rule.

First I heard a disbelieving guffaw. But when I said we'd heard this from more than one person and that they'd spoken to him specifically, the mood changed perceptively and shifted to some awkward discussion of someone possibly having mispoken and something and the other and various other somethings and others and ...

We didn't talk much longer than that.

But while I still don't know how Rep. Renzi voted on the DeLay Rule, I think we're clear that he is a member of the House Republican Conference. So that's some progress.

Sen. Frist issues a

Sen. Frist issues a formal apology ... to Ernest Istook.

STATEMENT FROM MAJORITY LEADER BILL FRIST: "I have spoken with Congressman Istook and he assures me that his office is not responsible for inclusion of the IRS provision into the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005, the so-called omnibus bill. I regret any confusion my earlier remarks may have created."

Wistful for the HandfulChris

Wistful for the Handful?

Chris Shays tells the Hartford Courant that he regrets not calling for a recorded vote on the DeLay Rule ...

Shays actually spoke twice - only three others spoke at all - and said Friday he wished he had sought a secret ballot vote, particularly after DeLay boasted how overwhelming his support had been.

"I thought I had done my job at the time. Things happen quickly," Shays explained. "We might have gotten 50 votes. We might have gotten 80 votes."

Ah coulda beena contenda ...

Were hearing the first

We're hearing the first word of some payback in the air for the folks in the Shays Handful -- meted out in ye olde-fashioned currency of committee assignments.

In fact, maybe even payback for some folks who didn't denounce the Handful enough.

We'll keep you posted.

Heres another story to

Here's another story to keep an eye on.

On election day, one of the most powerful legislators in the Texas House of Representatives, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Talmadge Heflin (R-Houston) got beat by a Vietnamese American businessman named Hubert Vo (D).

It was awfully close -- 32 votes. And it was also the first Democratic gain in the Texas state House in 32 years. (They've had a string of rough decades.)

With such a narrow margin, Heflin is understandably calling for a manual recount, which he's just officially requested.

But more than that seems to be afoot.

Speaker Tom Craddick -- the guy who handled the DeLay redistricting power grab last year -- has made all sorts of noise that he's cutting Heflin loose. He even reassigned his plum Appropriations Committee chairmanship. At the same time, the Texas Republicans' hotshot election lawyer Andy Taylor -- the guy who handled the redistricting business for Craddick and DeLay -- is representing Heflin and tossing around charges of voter fraud.

Taylor's presence makes Democrats understandably suspicious about whether Craddick and Co. have really given up on the thought of trying to seat Heflin by any means necessary.

And here's how they'd do it.

Under Texas law, in addition to asking for a recount, Heflin can challenge the validity of the election by filing an official challenge with the secretary of state. Based on that challenge Speaker Craddick would appoint a member of the House as a "special master" to investigate the election. If that 'investigation' finds irregularities and fraud, as Andy Taylor is already alleging, they order that a new election be held -- effectively invalidating the results of the election.

Needless to say, the Texas state House is now in Republican hands. So what all of that means is that Tom DeLay's local sub-boss, Speaker Craddick, gets to decide whether Hubert Vo's election gets tossed out on the basis of spurious charges of 'irregularities' and 'voter fraud.'

Of course, these are just the things Craddick could do if he chose. For Craddick and DeLay and the rest of them to actually try pulling this off would be amazingly bold and brazen.

But, then, look who we're talking about ...

This guy has sharp

This guy has sharp elbows too.

Travis County DA Ronnie Earle in the Times: "The thinly veiled personal attacks on me by Mr. DeLay's supporters in this case are no different from those in the cases of any of the 15 elected officials this office has prosecuted in my 27-year tenure."

And a line that might serve well as a choice quote just below the title on the first page of some future biography of Tom DeLay: "There is no limit to what you can do if you have the power to change the rules."

For the moment set

For the moment, set aside the civil liberties and privacy issues raised by the Istook Amendment. What does it say about the majority's management of the legislative process in Congress at present that it's been two and half days since this line item was discovered and no one has been able to determine who wrote it or who put it in the bill?

Tom DeLay on the

Tom DeLay on the Istook Amendment: "Frankly, the media is making a lot out of nothing. I did not know it was in the bill. My staff usually catches these kinds of things, but it was one sentence and we missed it."

The Times has a

The Times has a brief piece on the Istook Amendment. But they hit on the key point early, if a tad obliquely: Rep. Istook changed his story from Sunday to Monday.

On Sunday Istook explained that the tax-snooping language was basically innocuous. But, as the Times notes, he made no attempt to deny his responsibility for the language in the bill, even though the claim that he was behind the provision had been included in numerous press accounts.

Only on Monday did he make any claim that he wasn't involved at all.