Political Distraction: DeLay's troubles getting in the way of work
Dallas Morning News Editorial
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
The role of House majority leader is to shepherd legislation, a task that becomes increasingly difficult if the man with that title is embroiled in a crisis of confidence.
Conservatives have good reason to worry that Tom DeLay and the baggage of ethical misconduct allegations against him will continue to compromise his effectiveness as a legislative general.
The latest obstacle for Mr. DeLay and the conservative cause is a report that Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff paid for a trip he took overseas five years ago, which if true violates House ethics rules. In the congressman's defense, Mr. DeLay's lawyer says he was unaware of the "logistics" of the payments and thought the expenses were picked up by a nonprofit organization, the National Center for Public Policy Research.
If only this were just an isolated oversight. The House ethics committee last year admonished Mr. DeLay for ethical breaches, and the Texan's troubles have paralyzed the committee. He had its Republican chairman replaced and its rules changed to make it more difficult for future ethics investigations to proceed. In protest, Democrats have seized the political opportunity to bottle up the committee's work.
Nor does the distraction stop there. Mr. DeLay remains embroiled in a Travis County money-laundering probe related to his congressional redistricting efforts and now is being swept up in a widening FBI investigation into Mr. Abramoff's activities.
In recent days, a handful of Republicans, including some senators, have expressed concern that Mr. DeLay has become a political distraction, both for conservatives and ultimately President Bush's agenda. For the president's part, he has distanced himself from the congressman and his problems.
If Mr. DeLay doesn't comprehend the stakes, then it's the responsibility of fellow conservatives to deliver a forceful message that these ethical issues are larger than the political future of the Sugar Land Republican.
At stake is the legislative success of Mr. Bush's ambitious second term and a Republican majority after the next election. Effective party leadership must trump party loyalty; right now, that's not happening.