- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2004


Supporters of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay proposed a Republican rules change yesterday that would protect the Texan’s leadership position if he is indicted by a Texas grand jury that has charged three of his associates.

House Republicans today are likely to approve the change in the rule that would force him to step aside if indicted.

The show of support would be an endorsement of Mr. DeLay’s position that the Austin-based investigation is a partisan attack led by Ronnie Earle, Travis County’s retiring district attorney and a Democrat.

Current rules of the House Republican Conference require leaders to step aside from the party post if they are indicted for a felony punishable by two or more years in jail. The proposed change would eliminate the step-aside requirement for nonfederal indictments.

The Texas grand jury is investigating suspected campaign-finance irregularities in 2002 state legislative races. Republican victories in those contests enabled Mr. DeLay to win support for a congressional redistricting plan that helped Republicans gain five Texas seats in this month’s U.S. House elections.

House Democrats have a step-aside provision that applies to chairmen or ranking members of committees who are charged with felonies. The language is silent on top party leaders, but Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California nonetheless was sharply critical of the proposal to protect Mr. DeLay.

“If Republicans believe that an indicted member should be allowed to hold a top leadership position in the House of Representatives, their arrogance is astonishing,” Mrs. Pelosi said.

The language was proposed by Rep. Henry Bonilla, Texas Republican, who saw his vote share under the redistricting plan grow from 52 percent in 2002 to 69 percent on Nov. 2.

Bonilla spokeswoman Taryn Fritz Walpole said the proposed change is intended to “prevent political manipulation of the legislative process” and reduce the chance of “political exploitation and intimidation of House leadership and chairmanship positions.”

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