PUBLISHER’S COMMENTARY: House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the ethically-challenged Republican from Texas, comes under increasing fire from members of his own party. But conservative Republicans who would defend DeLay even if he got caught buggering a nun in church, say the criticism doesn’t count because it comes from Chis Shays, who commits the unpardonable sin of thinking for himself. They call Shays a “RINO” which, to them, means “Republican in Name Only.” The right-wing nuts will defend DeLay until the end because, after all, he is one of them and that’s all that counts.

Embattled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is drawing heat from some fellow Republicans who say his continuing ethics problems are harming the GOP.

“Tom’s conduct is hurting the Republican Party, is hurting this Republican majority and it is hurting any Republican who is up for re-election,” Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., told The Associated Press on Sunday.

DeLay, R-Texas, has been dogged in recent months by reports of possible ethics violations. There have been questions about his overseas travel, campaign payments to family members and his connections to lobbyists who are under investigation.

Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, said Sunday that DeLay needs to answer questions about his ethics.

“I think he has to come forward and lay out what he did and why he did it and let the people then judge for themselves,” Santorum told ABC’s “This Week.” “But from everything I’ve heard, again, from the comments and responding to those, is everything he’s done was according to the law.

“Now you may not like some of the things he’s done,” Santorum said. “That’s for the people of his district to decide, whether they want to approve that kind of behavior or not.”

DeLay’s spokesman, Dan Allen, told the AP that the congressman “looks forward to the opportunity of sitting down with the ethics committee chairman and ranking member to get the facts out and to dispel the fiction and innuendo that’s being launched at him by House Democrats and their liberal allies.”

The majority leader was admonished three times last year by the House ethics committee. The panel has been in limbo since March, when its five Democrats balked at adopting Republican-developed rules.

Shays, a moderate who has battled the GOP leadership on a number of issues, said efforts by House Republicans to change ethics rules to protect DeLay only make the party look bad.

“My party is going to have to decide whether we are going to continue to make excuses for Tom to the detriment of Republicans seeking election,” he said.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said last week that the controversy was distracting DeLay from dealing with more pressing problems before Congress.

Santorum, however, said DeLay is “very effective in leading the House” and “to date, has not been compromised.”

A senior Democratic senator, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, had this advice for the Republicans who control both the House and Senate: “Be careful about how closely you embrace Mr. DeLay.”

DeLay is “the poster child for a lot of the things the Democrats think are wrong about Republican leadership. As long as he’s there, he’s going to become a pretty good target,” Dodd said on ABC.