House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) challenged his liberal critics yesterday to "bring it on," as major conservative groups organized a formal defense against questions about DeLay's ethical conduct.
The groups -- led by David A. Keene of the American Conservative Union and including the Heritage Foundation, Leadership Institute and Family Research Council -- met privately with DeLay last week and pledged to use their grass-roots databases and networks to try to mitigate the damage from news accounts of DeLay's travel and relationships with lobbyists.
The groups' leaders, who said they regard the attacks on DeLay as an attack on the whole conservative movement, also have talked about holding a salute or tribute dinner for DeLay. They said the proceeds would benefit a children's charity not associated with the majority leader.
Two liberal interest groups announced plans yesterday to spend $100,000 on television advertising designed to inhibit DeLay's effectiveness as the House's second-ranking leader, but DeLay reacted defiantly as he made stops in his suburban Houston congressional district.
Asked his reaction to the ad campaign, DeLay said, "Bring it on."
"It's nothing but a bunch of leftist organizations that have a public strategy to demonize me, and usually they overreach," DeLay told Fox News and other news outlets. "My constituents know what's going on, and if they're going to do this, I think it shows who they are and what they are."
DeLay said the planned attack "says more about the critics than it does about me."
The Campaign for America's Future, backed by labor and civil rights leaders, said it will spend $75,000 on cable television ads in DeLay's district and in Washington. The ad invokes DeLay's role in spearheading congressional involvement in the case of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman whose parents unsuccessfully fought a court order for the removal of her feeding tube. "Tom DeLay can't wash his hands of corruption by involving Congress in one family's tragedy," the narrator says.
Ellen Miller, the group's deputy director, told journalists on a conference call that the three rebukes last year of DeLay by the "normally sleepy" House ethics committee are evidence that his "dealings are a national disgrace." She called him "the kingpin for the most corrupt Congress," and said he should resign.
Those ads are accompanied by a $25,000 drive by the Public Campaign Action Fund, which is running an online petition calling for DeLay to resign and is purchasing ads in the districts of Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), the new chairman of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct; Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee; and Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.), who may face a tough reelection race next year. Each ad has a tailored ending calling on the specific lawmaker to clean up Congress "without DeLay."
The rallying of conservatives -- first reported by the Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper that has Keene as a columnist -- came as a relief to Republicans concerned that a strong anti-DeLay editorial Monday in the Wall Street Journal had been a sign of erosion on the right.
DeLay told reporters in Texas that he was "very happy that Jesse Jackson has intervened" in the Schiavo case with his appearance Tuesday at her hospice in Pinellas Park, Fla., where he prayed with her parents and accompanied them in front of television cameras.
DeLay also was asked about a report in the Los Angeles Times on Sunday revealing that in 1988 he had supported a decision by his family not to begin dialysis for his father, Charles Ray DeLay, who had suffered a severe head injury and was in a coma when his kidneys failed. He died shortly after.
"My father was in a coma. Schiavo is a living person," DeLay said. "My father was on life support and dying. Schiavo is living and wants to live. There is no similarity at all, and to even suggest so is pretty sad."
Republicans distributed research about the groups' liberal backers, including billionaire-activist George Soros, and their connections to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).