GOP shouldn't delay in replacing DeLayAustin American-Statesman EDITORIAL BOARD
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
The steady stream of ethical charges flowing around U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay for more than a year are now threatening to inundate him. DeLay has been admonished three times in the past 12 months by the House Ethics Committee. He is central to a Travis County grand jury investigation of possible campaign law violations and faces new questions about his travel and lobby connections. Concerns arose last week about a trip DeLay, and others, accepted from the Korea-U.S. Exchange Council. The council is a registered foreign agent, which would make the trip illegal under House rules. The powerful Republican from Sugar Land has not taken all this criticism calmly. Under his leadership, the GOP recently changed the makeup of the Ethics Committee, canning the former chairman and adding to the panel DeLay's friend, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, a Republican from San Antonio whose district includes parts of Austin. GOP leaders also pushed through rules changes that would protect DeLay's position if he is indicted; allow easier dismissal of an ethics complaint; and allow one attorney to represent multiple clients accused of ethics violations. Most of this was done in secret, and House Democrats finally revolted. To protest the rules changes, Democrats prevented the Ethics Committee from organizing last week. Because the 10-member panel is evenly divided by party, it couldn't produce a majority vote to adopt the new rules. Without rules, the House now has no mechanism to investigate or punish members. The House is, as The Washington Post editorialized, "an ethics-free zone." Democrats insist that they will keep the pressure on until the Republicans undo the rules changes adopted to cover DeLay. How long the GOP will put up with DeLay's power plays and ethical lapses is a matter for speculation. But some Republicans already are acknowledging that DeLay's position is weakening. One Republican consultant quoted recently resorted to a remarkable bit of verbal gymnastics to describe DeLay's position. "The situation is negatively fluid right now for the guy," he said. DeLay brought this on himself. His scorched-earth partisanship, coziness with lobbyists and flippant attitude toward House ethics rules made him a vulnerable target. Republicans would be wise to get themselves another majority leader before more damage is done.