Tuesday, April 12, 2005

2 in GOP Take Aim at DeLay


2 in GOP Take Aim at DeLay

House majority leader, facing questions over trips he took, is urged to 'lay out what he did.'

By Mary Curtius
Times Staff Writer

April 11, 2005

WASHINGTON — The near-solid wall of public support that Republicans have displayed for beleaguered House Majority Leader Tom DeLay began to crack Sunday, with a Senate leader saying the Texas Republican needed to "lay out what he did and why he did it" and a House member calling on him to step down from his leadership post.

DeLay, who last year was admonished three times by the House Permanent Select Committee on Ethics for his hardball political tactics, has been the subject of recent news reports involving trips he took that were indirectly funded by lobbyists or foreign agents — a violation of House rules.

DeLay's staff has said that the congressman knew only that the trips were paid for by nonprofit groups and that he had reported that on disclosure forms.

He also has been criticized for his association with a lobbyist who is under federal investigation.

Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a conservative who is the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, told ABC's "This Week" that DeLay needed to explain his actions.

"I think he has to come forward and lay out what he did and why he did it and let the people then judge for themselves," Santorum said. "From everything I've heard … everything he's done was according to the law."

In an interview Sunday with Associated Press, Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut — a moderate who is one of DeLay's most outspoken critics among House Republicans — was more blunt.

"Tom's conduct is hurting the Republican Party, is hurting this Republican majority, and it is hurting any Republican who is up for reelection," he said.

"My party is going to have to decide whether we are going to continue to make excuses for Tom to the detriment of Republicans seeking election."

Shays declined Sunday to elaborate on his views. But his press secretary, Sarah Moore, confirmed that the quotes were accurate and said that Shays intended them to be understood as a call for DeLay to resign as majority leader.

Moore said Shays was questioned by constituents about DeLay during town hall meetings in his district over the weekend.

During one of those meetings, in Greenwich, Conn., on Saturday, Shays was quoted by the Greenwich Time newspaper as saying: "Do I think Tom DeLay will be the majority leader by the end of this term? No."

Party strategists and some Republican members of Congress have said privately for weeks that DeLay's position as majority leader would be threatened only if the questions raised about his trips and his business associations began to resonate in Republican districts.

Both Santorum and Shays face reelection battles next year. Watchdog groups and Democrats have promised to target Republicans in advertising campaigns urging them to demand DeLay's ouster as majority leader.

Some groups have already started running ads and placing calls about DeLay to voters in targeted Republican districts.

Dan Allen, a spokesman for DeLay, refused to say whether Santorum's and Shays' comments were politically damaging.

"Congressman DeLay has been very effective in helping to build and strengthen the House majority, and for that reason alone the liberal groups funded by George Soros are attacking him," Allen said in a telephone interview Sunday. "The House Republican conference, as a whole, realizes that the attack is not just on DeLay alone, but a full-out attack on the House Republicans."

Soros is a billionaire activist who finances pro-democracy organizations in the U.S. and abroad and who poured millions into trying to defeat President Bush in November.

DeLay's troubles began last year, when the House Permanent Select Committee on Ethics admonished him for transgressions that included allegedly involving a federal agency in a Texas partisan matter and staging a fundraiser in a way that appeared to link access to the congressman with political donations.

In recent weeks, newspaper articles have detailed trips DeLay took to Russia, South Korea and Scotland that he had reported were funded by nonprofit organizations but that were directly or indirectly paid for by lobbyists or foreign agents. House rules prohibit members from taking trips funded by such entities.

DeLay has responded with an aggressive defense, rallying the support of House Republicans and conservative groups. In recent weeks, he led the congressional effort to involve the federal courts in the case of Terri Schiavo.

The brain-damaged Florida woman died March 31 after a state court sided with her husband and ordered her feeding tube removed.

DeLay has repeatedly rejected any notion that he violated House ethics rules by taking a golf trip to Scotland sponsored by Jack Abramoff, a onetime associate. Abramoff, a lobbyist, is under federal investigation for his dealings with Indian gaming interests.

The majority leader has said that all of his trips have been accounted for and that he looks forward to meeting with the chairman and the vice chairman of the House ethics committee to answer questions about his travels and business associations.

One House Republican leadership aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Shays' public attack on DeLay was not surprising.

"Chris Shays is watching his backside in a very tough district — he's the first person anyone would suspect who would distance himself from Tom DeLay, and the only one who has spoken on the record," the aide said.

But Santorum, the aide continued, "was off message. There are no questions for DeLay to answer. There are questions that lobbyists who are connected to him have to answer."

Shays won reelection to a 10th term in November by 4 percentage points amid criticism from his Democratic opponent that he had moved closer to the conservative DeLay and was no longer a moderate.

Shays told the Connecticut Post newspaper, in an article published Sunday, that the Democratic Party was calling voters in his district and urging them to ask him about DeLay and why Republicans kept him in power.

The Campaign for America's Future, a nonprofit organization supported by civil rights, labor and women's organizations, is running television ads in Washington and in DeLay's Texas district calling on Republicans to demand their leader's resignation.

The Public Campaign Action Fund, a campaign finance watchdog group, is running ads in three Republican districts, including that of the House ethics committee chairman, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.).

David Donnelly, the Public Campaign Action Fund's political director, said Sunday that Santorum's and Shays' comments showed there were "Republicans putting some distance between themselves and Tom DeLay. It creates some safe space for others who are contemplating doing the same."

Donnelly said Shays' call was not a surprise. He noted that the Connecticut lawmaker was the only House Republican to oppose — during a closed-door session in November — a move by DeLay to rewrite House GOP rules to ensure that he could stay on as majority leader even if he was indicted by a Texas grand jury.

Three fundraisers with ties to DeLay have been accused in Texas of funneling illegal corporate contributions to GOP candidates for state office.

House Republicans adopted the rules change, then rescinded it at DeLay's request two months later.