- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 20, 2004

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi traded charges over who is more unethical yesterday as Congress prepared to adjourn for the year and leaders hoped to pass a $388 billion spending bill and possibly the intelligence overhaul measure today.

Congress must pass the spending bill before leaving town, while the intelligence bill — though it would be a huge accomplishment — is not a must. With some House negotiators insisting on inclusion of immigration provisions stemming from the September 11 commission report, House and Senate negotiators remained stalemated last night.

Just before 7 p.m., as negotiations continued, House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., a Wisconsin Republican who had been insisting on strong immigration provisions, left the room, clearly angry. He told a White House aide that he refused to cave on one of the provisions.

“There are a lot of things the White House is going to want me to do beyond 24 hours from now,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said. “I will talk to the president, butI am now being asked to take out the one thing that I wanted in this bill.”

He went on to say that the White House was treating him like a “public utility” and that he would not sign off on a “bad bill,” before a House aide signaled them that a reporter was nearby and they should conduct the conversation out of earshot.

The House bill contained stronger national standards for driver’s licenses, restricted use of foreign consular ID cards and made it harder for illegal immigrants to be granted asylum. The Senate bill didn’t contain any of those provisions, and Senate negotiators have opposed them in the final compromise.

Another set of House and Senate negotiators was working last night to finalize the omnibus spending bill, operating under a veto threat from the White House if the bill exceeded the agreed-upon total.

Congressional aides and lobbyists on both sides of the abortion debate said the final bill will probably include a House-passed provision shielding hospitals and doctors from being forced by state or local law to perform abortions against their conscience, and insurers from being forced to cover abortions against their conscience.

The provision was insisted on by House Republicans and has been supported by the White House, but sparked an outcry from eight women senators last night, who said it would interfere with women getting full reproductive health services in some areas.

As both chambers awaited final versions of the spending and intelligence bills, senators took to the floor to give farewell speeches.

Having failed to win re-election to his South Dakota seat, Minority Leader Tom Daschle told colleagues to pursue the political center.

“The politics of common ground will not be found on the far right, on the far left. That is not where most Americans live,” Mr. Daschle said. “We will only find it in the firm middle ground, based on common sense and shared values.”

Around all of this swirled a brewing battle over the House Ethics Committee and the Republican and Democratic leadership.

This newest contretemps stemmed from a letter the House ethics panel sent Thursday to Rep. Chris Bell, Texas Democrat, saying he violated a series of House rules when he filed a complaint earlier this year against Mr. DeLay.

The committee last month admonished Mr. DeLay and said he “went beyond the bounds of acceptable conduct” for a House member in two areas.

Mr. DeLay said the new letter to Mr. Bell was further proof that the entire exercise was a failed Democratic attempt to sully him.

“The only two members of the House of Representatives that I know of right now that have actually violated the law are Nancy Pelosi and Jim McDermott,” Mr. DeLay, Texas Republican, said, prompting Mrs. Pelosi, a California Democrat, to fire back that the charge she broke the law is a lie.

“Mr. DeLay’s display today and his repeated ethical lapses have brought dishonor on the House of Representatives,” she said.

In a move that appears to be a retaliation for the DeLay charges, Rep. David L. Hobson, Ohio Republican, has filed an ethics complaint against Mr. McDermott, a Washington Democrat.

The new complaint, reported by U.S. News & World Report’s Washington Whispers column yesterday and confirmed by The Washington Times, stems from a 1996 incident in which a couple intercepted and taped a cell-phone conversation Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, was having with Republican leaders. The couple passed the tape on to Mr. McDermott, then on the ethics panel, who then leaked the tape to the press, including the New York Times.

After charges bounced up and down the federal courts, a federal district court judge last month ruled that Mr. McDermott “participated in an illegal transaction” and must pay a $60,000 fine, plus Mr. Boehner’s attorney’s fees.

In a statement, Mr. McDermott said he is appealing and expects “the result to be very different.”

Mr. McDermott said there are First Amendment issued involved in the case, adding that in the complaint, “Congressman Boehner’s colleague failed to mention that the U.S. Supreme Court in the past has supported my position.

“These are all points we will ensure are shared with the House ethics committee,” Mr. McDermott said.

Despite what Democratic leaders said, the recent ethics rulings were not a “rebuke” of Mr. DeLay. Instead, they were admonishments, which Mr. DeLay said yesterday isn’t a sanction at all.

“Admonishment is not a sanction of the House rules, although you treat it like it is,” he told reporters. “It is not a sanction and it is a mild warning, and if you read the letters, about impression. It has nothing to do with admonishment of violating the House rules.”

What the committee told Mr. DeLay in its Oct. 6 letter was that his actions in two areas “went beyond the bounds of acceptable conduct” for a House member, and seemed to warn him that they would be watching to see that he didn’t accumulate any more questionable acts.

But Mr. Bell, the man who filed the initial complaint against Mr. DeLay, said the committee did find the majority leader at fault.

“This is not about Chris Bell. This is about Tom DeLay,” he told reporters yesterday afternoon.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said he feared the new ethics letter “could chill legitimate complaints by members and thereby undermine the public’s confidence in the integrity of this institution.”

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