Thursday, October 07, 2004

Delay ruled unethically fit; Refuses to step down

DeLay says he won't step down

By Andrea Stone, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The second-most-powerful Republican in the House, Tom DeLay of Texas, rejected calls Thursday from Democrats and watchdog groups that he step down as majority leader after the House ethics committee admonished him for abusing his power.

DeLay, a 10-term House veteran, said he remains focused on fighting terrorism and preventing another 9/11. "By the Democrats' actions today, it is clear they are focused on something else entirely: a smear campaign," he said.

The war of words all but ended the unwritten, seven-year ethics truce between Democrats and Republicans in the House. In harsh language, Democrats demanded that Republicans remove DeLay if he refused to step down.

"Republicans must answer — do they want an ethically unfit person to be their majority leader, or do they want to remove the ethical cloud that hangs over the Capitol?" House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said.

Wednesday's admonishments, coming six days after another warning from the ethics committee, could end any hopes DeLay had of becoming House speaker when Dennis Hastert of Illinois retires. (Related story: Ethics panel rebukes DeLay again)

House Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri said the actions came as a result of a personal vendetta by Rep. Chris Bell, a first-term Texas Democrat who lost a primary this year after DeLay's redistricting plan was implemented. "We're seeing some election-year politics playing out," Blunt told CNN.

The latest rebukes came late Wednesday from the committee of five Republicans and five Democrats. They were unanimous. In a letter to DeLay, the panel said his actions "went beyond the bounds of acceptable conduct."

The panel said DeLay:

• Created the appearance of favoritism when he helped facilitate a golf fundraiser with executives of Westar Energy, which was seeking legislative help.

• Raised concerns by contacting the Federal Aviation Administration to help locate a planeload of Texas state legislators who had fled to Oklahoma to thwart action on the redistricting plan. House standards forbid using government resources in a partisan conflict.

• Pressured Rep. Nick Smith, R-Mich., to switch his vote on a Medicare prescription-drug bill by offering to endorse Smith's son in a Republican primary. Smith refused, and his son lost the primary.

In addition, DeLay was rebuked in 1999 for threatening retaliation against a trade group if it hired a Democrat as its president.

The committee deferred action on another complaint that DeLay in 2002 illegally funneled corporate funds to state legislators through a political action committee he created. A Texas grand jury is investigating; three of DeLay's political associates have been indicted in the case.

The committee did spare DeLay more severe punishment: a formal investigation, a more serious letter of reprimand or even expulsion.

"Admonishment is not a good thing," said Ken Gross, an election law expert who has represented both Democrats and Republicans in ethics cases. "It's on the mild side, but not completely insignificant."

Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., said there is "no sentiment" among Republicans to remove DeLay as leader before the Nov. 2 elections. But, he added, "If he's indicted, that changes the whole thing. He'd have to step down."

Less clear is the effect DeLay's case will have on current House races. Democrats will likely still have a tough time reversing the Republicans' 227-205 advantage. But they saw a new opportunity to make DeLay an issue in campaigns. On Thursday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent an e-mail to supporters asking for contributions to help "efforts to unseat DeLay."

Some Republicans were already seeking to put distance between themselves and the majority leader. In Oregon, Republican Goli Ameri, who is challenging Democratic Rep. David Wu, said in an ad that if elected, "When Tom DeLay is wrong, I'll look him in the eye and I'll let him know that."

Contributing: William M. Welch


Post a Comment

<< Home