[Updated] It’s now a topic for Doonesbury:
The question now is how long can House majority leader Tom DeLay continue to ignore the writing on the wall. According to the Associated Press:
One of Congress’ most conservative members on Friday became the second House Republican to urge Majority Leader Tom DeLay to step aside because of the ethics scrutiny he’s facing.
“If the majority leader were to temporarily step aside so that these trumped up charges can be dealt with in a less hostile environment, as they have proven to be an unnecessary distraction, it may be a productive move,” said Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo.
Tancredo’s comments come after Connecticut Rep. Chris Shays, a moderate Republican, urged DeLay to resign from his leadership position at the beginning of the week. Also, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, said DeLay needs to answer questions about his ethics.
Republicans seem uneasy. An editorial in the Chicago Tribune says, “Republicans, on up to the White House, have not exactly been eager to defend the Texas lawmaker” and “that DeLay’s troubles only seem to mount, and the notion that he’s the victim of a Democratic Party/liberal media witch hunt just doesn’t hold water. DeLay was admonished by the House Ethics Committee three times last year. That would be the Republican-controlled House Ethics Committee.” Time Magazine quotes a Republican aide saying “every meeting we have is now a meeting about Tom DeLay.” Even the Bush administration, notorious for rewarding failure, seems to be questioning DeLay’s handling of the matter, as Time reports, “The White House is publicly standing behind a leader whose legislative abilities Bush respects and needs for the fights ahead. Bush still calls DeLay a friend, although spokesman Scott McClellan pointedly noted last week that ‘there are different levels of friendship.’ The President’s team is increasingly frustrated by the majority leader’s inability to mount a defense more persuasive than blaming his problems on a liberal conspiracy. DeLay, says a senior Administration official, ‘is handling this like an idiot.'”
[Republican leaders] can’t continue to aid the efforts by DeLay to dodge responsibility. The worst example is this: After the Ethics Committee rebuked DeLay for the third time, the GOP leadership neutered the Ethics Committee. The Republican chairman of the committee, Rep. Joel Hefley, was removed from his post over his objections, and the committee rules were changed so either party could block an investigation of a House member.
Republicans can argue that the committee chairmanship was due to rotate. But the rules change to block investigations was an incredibly blind and arrogant tactic. Don’t blame DeLay for that one. Blame House Speaker Dennis Hastert for letting it happen.
Dale McFeatters, writing in Capitol Hill Blue, describes the changes this way:
To start, the leadership deposed the incumbent Republican chairman of the ethics panel who presided when the committee three times admonished DeLay, replacing the chairman with someone presumably more malleable. They also installed two DeLay loyalists and fund-raisers on the committee.
And the panel’s rules were changed. Previously, if the committee, evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, deadlocked on a complaint, the investigation proceeded. Under the new rules, if the committee deadlocks on a complaint, it is automatically dismissed after five days. Members can demand an immediate hearing, leaving the committee no time to investigate, and a member under investigation and the witnesses can share a lawyer.
Time writes of this, “It was easy for DeLay’s allies to dismiss signs of erosion in his support early last week when they were largely confined to criticism by moderate Republican Congressman Chris Shays, often a voice of dissent within the ranks. But it was more difficult after 10 former Congressmen, all Republicans, signed a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert imploring him to reverse recent revisions in the House rules that were apparently designed to shield DeLay from being investigated by the ethics committee.” McFeatters writes that “GOP critics of the changes, part of a larger plan to protect House Republican Tom DeLay, say the changes are making the party look bad.”
But Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri thinks, “Tom DeLay is not going to run away from a fight.” Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, a Democrat, thinks Republicans are unlikely to choose him to continue as leader after next year’s congressional elections.
DeLay has said he is eager to appear before the House ethics panel to answer questions. But Democrats, in protest, have not allowed the panel to organize since Republicans voted to change its rules in a way Democrats claim would weaken the committee’s ability to investigate lawmakers.
Said Frank, “I, 15 years ago, had a problem because I behaved inappropriately. The ethics committee stepped in,… Newt Gingrich had a problem. He was reprimanded; the ethics committee stepped in. The difference between us and Mr. DeLay is, I think, we changed our behavior. Mr. DeLay changed the ethics committee.”