The “Gang of Four” Congressional leaders that meets weekly for an Oval Office breakfast with President Bush is now a gang of five.
Breaking with the policy set in the last Congress, White House organizers have added House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) to the core group, giving him a voice in Washington’s top-level Wednesday meeting.
It’s a courtesy that was not extended to DeLay’s predecessor as leader, former Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas), in spite of protests from that Member’s staff that the party’s leader in the House should be provided a seat at the table, along with the Speaker.
The breakfasts began in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, primarily as a means for Bush and the bipartisan group of top Congressional leaders to share thoughts in the evolving aftermath of the atrocity.
The original group included Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and then-Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.). Also among the original four were then-House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) and then-Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who have both been replaced in leadership this Congress. [IMGCAP(1)]
It is not clear why Armey was excluded from the original core group.
A former Armey aide said staffers initially fought for the leader’s inclusion in the weekly sit-downs but were met with resistance from the White House’s legislative affairs shop. Armey did not put up a fuss when he was not brought into the breakfast group, the aide said.
“We were arguing for parity,” the Armey aide said, noting the Speaker is technically not the actual leader of the party in the House. “But apparently the White House didn’t see it that way.”
White House officials did not respond to inquiries.
By the time Congress reached the home stretch before the 2002 elections the breakfast meetings had become somewhat irregular. Democratic leadership aides have more recently suggested the breakfasts serve little purpose, except insofar as the White House wishes to project an image of bipartisanship.
DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy said the leader is satisfied simply to be involved.
“Obviously, we’re always glad to have face time with the president when there is a discussion of major issues,” Roy said.