Leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives ethics committee on Thursday cleared the way for a long-anticipated investigation of Majority Leader Tom DeLay by resolving a partisan staffing dispute.
DeLay, a Texas Republican, has denied any wrongdoing and has said for months that he is eager for the panel to review questions about his ties to lobbyists and foreign trips.
But the ethics panel has been shut down most of this year, with Democrats and Republicans accusing each other of trying to gain political leverage and causing the staffing impasse.
Consequently the panel had been unable to examine cases involving DeLay or any other member because of the staffing dispute and a now-resolved earlier impasse over House ethics rules.
The new accord will clear the way for the hiring of a nonpartisan staff, including investigators and a chief counsel, which could take a couple of months.
Committee chairman Doc Hastings, a Washington state Republican, and Rep. Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, the panel’s top Democrat, announced their agreement in a brief statement.
“We are pleased to resolve this issue and are committed to standing up the committee, with a full complement of professional, nonpartisan staff, as soon as possible,” they said.
“It is our intent to establish a committee and process that reflect credibly on the House, its members and the public they serve,” they added.
DeLay was admonished by the ethics committee on three separate matters last year, and has faced questions this year about his ethical conduct, particularly regarding his relationship with lobbyists and foreign trips paid by outside groups.
DeLay had accused the Democrats of stalling on the ethics committee staffing question in order to push an investigation of him into next year’s congressional elections.
Democrats, who have made DeLay a top political target, charged that Republicans had been the ones dragging their feet while seeking to gain advantage on the committee, composed of five Democratic and five Republican lawmakers.
The attention on DeLay has prompted scrutiny of other congressional travel. This has resulted in complaints about members on both sides of the political aisle that could end up as matters for the ethics committee to examine.
Democrat had complained that Hastings wanted his own chief of staff to oversee the committee staff, but said he had backed off the idea last month, helping set the stage for the new accord.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said, “After nearly six months, the Republicans have come to where Democrats began — the rules of the House must be followed. At long last the ethics committee can get to work.”
Earlier on Thursday DeLay said he was pleased an agreement was near.
Under the deal, the committee’s “nonpartisan staff” will be headed by a chief counsel-staff director accountable to the chairman and ranking Democrat.
Two “shared staff members” will have no managerial authority over the “nonpartisan staff,” it added.
Hastings and Mollohan each appoint their own shared staff members, so named because they serve on the committee as well as in the lawmakers’ congressional offices.