After the House ethics committee admonished Republican leader Tom DeLay three times last year, the House GOP leadership vowed that wasn’t going to happen again.
They ousted the committee’s chairman and packed the panel with DeLay partisans and, over strenuous Democratic objections, rammed through new rules making it easier for a member in hot water to beat an ethics investigation. The rules they threw out, it should be noted, were passed in 1997 by the new, reform-minded Republican majority.
The ethics committee is the only House panel equally divided between Republicans and Democrats, five and five, so since January angry Democrats have been able to shut down the committee in protest.
Since then, DeLay has once again found himself in trouble, this time for going on privately sponsored overseas trips that may well have been paid for by lobbyists or foreign agents, which is against House rules.
House Republicans rallied around DeLay, but with the ethics committee at an impasse, there was no forum in which he could prove his innocence. Without the committee, there was no way to contain the political fallout from the allegations. There followed the entertaining spectacle of the GOP leadership begging ethics committee Democrats to please, please investigate DeLay. No dice, said the Democrats. Not as long as those rules remain in effect.
This week the leadership caved and the House voted, 406-20, to repeal the new rules. The lopsided vote indicates that many Republicans were dubious about the new rules but had dutifully supported the leadership.
The way is now clear for the committee to begin investigating the majority leader’s complicated travel arrangements.
DeLay has insisted all along that he’s the target of a conspiracy of liberal Democratic activists. Maybe so, but this week’s version of that theory was just plain nutty.
“I know some of these leftist groups would love to isolate members of Congress so that we don’t talk to Americans,” he said. If it’s Americans he wanted to talk to, London, South Korea, Moscow and Scottish golf courses were funny places to go looking for them.
(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)