Monday, March 14, 2005

DeLay Update

According to Mike Allen in the Washington Post, the wagons are circling around Tom DeLay, but so are the buzzards.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) has dismissed questions about his ethics as partisan attacks, but revelations last week about his overseas travel and ties to lobbyists under investigation have emboldened Democrats and provoked worry among Republicans.

With some members increasingly concerned that DeLay had left himself vulnerable to attack, several Republican aides and lobbyists said for the first time that they are worried about whether he will survive and what the consequences could be for the party’s image.

“If death comes from a thousand cuts, Tom DeLay is into a couple hundred, and it’s getting up there,” said a Republican political consultant close to key lawmakers. “The situation is negatively fluid right now for the guy. You start hitting arteries, it only takes a couple.” The consultant, who at times has been a DeLay ally, spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying he could not be candid otherwise.

At least six Republicans expressed concern over the weekend about DeLay’s situation. They said they do not think DeLay necessarily deserves the unwanted attention he is receiving. But they said that the volume of the revelations about his operation is becoming alarming and that they do not see how it will abate.

And amazingly, the Democrats are showing some backbone and even taking advantage of Mr. DeLay’s problems.

Republican leaders had thought they had built a fortress against future trouble by changing House rules in January and by changing the House ethics committee’s Republican membership in February to include members closer to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and DeLay. In one previously unreported example of the tight connections, Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Tex.), one of the committee’s new members, was co-host of a 2002 fundraising breakfast to benefit the DeLay-founded political action committee that is now the subject of a grand jury investigation in Texas. The grand jury is looking into whether the PAC improperly used corporate funds to influence the outcome of state legislative races.

DeLay’s legal defense fund received contributions from two of the new ethics committee members, Smith and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). The committee admonished DeLay three times last year. Republican leaders later sought the rule changes that made it more difficult to bring new ethics charges against Republicans.

Democratic leaders have introduced a resolution to repeal the rules and said they plan to try to force Republicans to publicly defend the changes at a time when the news media are reporting about DeLay’s relationship with lobbyists now under criminal and congressional investigation.

The rule changes require at least one member of each party to support an investigation before it is begun. Under the old rules, if the chairman and top Democrat did not agree on what to do with a complaint within 45 days after it was determined to be valid, an investigative subcommittee was automatically created. Now, a complaint is automatically dismissed if the committee does not act within 45 days.

Democrats opened their protest Thursday, at the ethics committee’s first meeting under its new leadership, by preventing the panel from organizing. The committee must adopt rules to function, and those were voted down by a 5 to 5 party-line vote, leaving the House with no mechanism for investigating or punishing members.

Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (W.Va.), the committee’s top Democrat, said in a telephone interview yesterday that he will not release his freeze on committee action unless the House undoes the rule changes, and he said he has begun recruiting Republicans to back him. He said he may use a tactic known as a discharge petition, which could force a bill to the floor if enough Republicans back him.

That’s so partisan!

Ron Bonjean, Hastert’s communications director, said the party’s leaders have no intention of giving in. “It’s very clear we’re at an impasse caused by Democrat partisan politics,” he said. “The House has already voted on rules for this Congress, and there is no credible reason to do it again.”

Yeah, that’s a Republican tactic. Work your own side of the street.

Dan Allen, DeLay’s communications director, said his boss was a natural target for Democrats. “Congressman DeLay is a fixture of the conservative movement who’s been a very effective leader that works with Republicans to get results,” he said. “That alone makes him a target of the Democrats and their allies, but it is also the reason he enjoys the steadfast support of House Republicans.”

Uh oh…that’s just what they tell you right before they toss you overboard. Here, Tom, hang on to that anchor for just a moment, willya?