Did the GOP toss ethics rule?Locked
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, House Republicans adopted a rule change Wednesday that would allow their powerful majority leader, Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, to keep his post if he is indicted on state corruption charges stemming from a fund-raising scandal that has already involved three of his associates.
Democrats led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco — who was unanimously re-elected to her post Wednesday — assailed the Republican action as hypocritical and arrogant.
The Republicans made the change after debating it for hours in a closed- door session Wednesday morning. Members said several GOP lawmakers objected to the change.
The furor over DeLay’s leadership came as both parties organized for the next session of Congress and tried to produce intelligence-reform legislation and vast spending bills during a brief lame-duck session that may stretch to the weekend.
The original rule was adopted by Republicans in 1993 when they were the minority party attacking the Democratic-controlled leadership as corrupt and arrogant. The rule required House GOP leaders to step aside if indicted for a crime that could bring a sentence of at least two years in state or federal prison.
The new rule, proposed by Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, empowers the House Republican Steering Committee to decide within 30 days of a felony indictment whether to recommend to the full membership whether an affected member would have to leave a leadership post.
Republicans charge that the Texas investigation, led by Ronnie Earle, a veteran Democratic prosecutor in Austin, is a political effort designed to embarrass DeLay. While there has been no indication that Earle plans to indict DeLay, who has been disciplined by the House Ethics Committee three times in recent years for ethical lapses, such a move wouldn’t be a surprise either.
“This takes the power away from any partisan crackpot district attorney who may want to indict,” Bonilla said after the vote preserving DeLay’s post.
Democrats, recalling how Republicans used the ethics issue to help end four decades of Democratic House control in 1994, criticized the GOP move.
“It’s just interesting that the first order of business following the election, on the part of the Republican majority, is to lower their ethical standards for their leaders in the Congress by saying that if indicted, you can serve,” Pelosi told reporters after the Democrats in the House unanimously re-elected her and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland.
Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, one of Pelosi’s closest advisers, was re- elected head of the Democratic Policy Committee. Pelosi also asked Rep. Robert Matsui, D-Sacramento, to remain at the helm of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the House Democrats’ fund-raising and candidate recruitment arm. But House aides said Matsui will delay a decision until after the Dec. 4 runoff races for two Louisiana House races.
If Matsui steps aside, one of the leading candidates to take over the committee is Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena.
Pelosi said House Democrats required the party’s committee leaders to step aside if indicted. That rule will be expanded to cover the caucus’ leaders, she said.
The Democrats, stung by their defeat Nov. 2 in an election in which parties’ devotion to traditional values may have played a major role, responded Wednesday by creating a task force on Faith and Values in Politics.
Caucus Chairman Rep. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said the task force would seek to promote such traditional Democratic values as caring for the poor, the elderly and children and standing for the fiscal discipline embodied in the budget surpluses of the Clinton administration.
“We’re going to be speaking to values,” he said. “In doing so, we will be striking a responsive chord leading to a Democratic victory in 2006,” when all seats in the House will be filled again.
Senate Republicans re-elected their leaders, Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and his assistant, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. On Tuesday, Senate Democrats elected Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada to replace Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, who was defeated for re-election on Nov. 2.
McConnell said that even though Senate Republicans increased their numbers from 51 to 55 in the election, they still could face Democratic blocking efforts because it takes 60 votes to cut off Senate debate on an issue.
“This conference is not suffering from hubris …” he said. “We intend to make a greater effort than ever to reach out to our Democratic colleagues.”
The parties caucused as Congress tries to find agreement on the stalled intelligence bill, prompted by the recommendations of the bipartisan commission that investigated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
House and Senate negotiators trying to reconcile the two bodies’ differing bills on the subject haven’t reached agreement despite weeks of talks, and the issue may be delayed until the new Congress in January.
Negotiators remain hung up over the most basic element of the intelligence overhaul: exactly what powers a new national intelligence director would have over the 15 agencies in the intelligence community, most of which are controlled by the Defense Department.
The House side also is sticking by provisions in its bill that would stiffen immigration laws, steps that have been criticized by civil libertarians and immigrant rights groups. The controversial provisions include making it easier to deport illegal immigrants, even to countries where they might face torture, and a prohibition on federal acceptance of the matricula consular identification cards that have been issued by Mexico to many thousands of its citizens living in the United States.
Prompted by projected budget deficits of hundreds of billions of dollars a year, the Senate voted 52-44 on Wednesday, largely along party lines, to raise the national debt limit by $800 billion, to more than $8 trillion.
Action also is likely on an omnibus spending bill of almost $400 billion for a host of government departments.