- The Washington Times - Friday, October 8, 2004

House Democrats yesterday called for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to step down from his leadership role, in light of his second rebuke from the ethics committee in a week.

“I think he certainly ought to step aside as leader at this point in time, because I think his credibility has been undermined by these findings,” said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. “Consistent patterns are powerful proof of corrupt practices.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Republicans must decide whether to “remove the ethical cloud that hangs over the Capitol.”

Mr. DeLay, Texas Republican, was rebuked in a letter Wednesday night by the House Standards of Official Conduct Committee for two actions: improperly seeking government help to track down a plane carrying Texas Democrats trying to thwart his state redistricting plan; and raising “an appearance of impropriety” by participating in a fund-raiser with energy company officials in 2002, while the energy bill was being negotiated.

The panel deferred action on a third charge because it also is the subject of a Texas criminal probe not involving Mr. DeLay. The charge was that Mr. DeLay participated in a scheme to illegally funnel corporate money to Texas state campaigns in 2002.

The panel could have dismissed the three accusations with no action whatsoever, convened a special panel to investigate one or more of the charges further, or taken formal action against Mr. DeLay, such as recommending that the full House formally rebuke or censure him.

Instead, it chose to send him a letter of admonishment regarding two of the charges — the mildest action possible other than dismissing them outright.

Republicans stood by their leader yesterday, saying the ethics panel “dismissed” charges against Mr. DeLay, and accused the Democrats of playing politics.

“They should be calling for him to step down — he’s the most effective majority leader we’ve seen,” said Rep. Tom Feeney, Florida Republican.

But some added that Mr. DeLay is safe, unless he is indicted in Texas. “As long as nothing happens in Texas he’ll … remain majority leader,” said Rep. Ray LaHood, Illinois Republican.

Others were not so sure.

“There’s an evaluation under way … as to whether now is the time for new leadership,” Rep. Zach Wamp, Tennessee Republican, told the Associated Press, adding that support for Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican “transcends all this.”

Some said much depends on how effective Mr. DeLay can be in bringing victory next month at the ballot box.

“If we come back with a substantially increased majority, you won’t hear much about it from Republicans,” said Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican, who strongly supports the leader. “If he’s damaged in his leadership capacity and we were to lose seats, it might cause other members to join in the criticism.”

Groups ranging from the liberal Common Cause and the Center for Responsive Politics to the more conservative Judicial Watch have called for Mr. DeLay to relinquish his post.

Last week, the panel rebuked the majority leader for pressuring a Michigan Republican to vote for the Medicare bill last year by offering in return to support the congressional candidacy of the man’s son.

In the past, the ethics committee has:

• Said in 1997 that Speaker Newt Gingrich, Georgia Republican, made misleading statements to the ethics committee investigating the financing of his college course, reprimanded him and ordered him to pay a $300,000 penalty.

• Investigated Speaker Jim Wright, Texas Democrat, in 1989 for improperly accepting speaking fees and gifts to himself and his wife. The panel report accused him of five counts of violating House rules; Mr. Wright resigned a few months later.

• Recommended that Rep. James A. Traficant, Ohio Democrat, be expelled from the House in 2002 for felony corruption convictions. The full chamber did so.

• Recommended a full-House reprimand of Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, for using his congressional influence on behalf of a male prostitute who was running a prostitution ring out of Mr. Frank’s home.

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