House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) has been accused of ethical violations over his overseas travel, which some say was funded by lobbyists and public interests. DeLay has strongly denied any impropriety and blames the attacks on Democrats and their allies in the press.
Susan Ferrechio, a reporter for Congressional Quarterly who has been reporting on DeLay, was online to answer your questions.
A transcript follows.
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Jay Severin, a frequent guest of Imus in the Morning, cited over 50 democrats that have members of their family on the company payroll. When will we see the CQ, The Post, the NY Times, AP, and Reuters do a front page story on this?
Also, Rep. Abercrombie just admitted that a lobby shop paid for a trip he recently took. He is asking for advice from the House Ethics Committee. Can we expect the media to crucify him for this mistake as they have done with DeLay?
Susan Ferrechio: Travel by members of Congress is definitely a hot issue. Reporter are looking at both Democrats and Republicans, I can assure you. I think, in the coming weeks, you will see reports on expense-paid travel by both Democrats and Republicans. It is a very common practice that definitely deserves more scrutiny.
Why is it that the Justice Department never investigated the misuse of Homeland Security and the FAA by Tom DeLay when he used a false "missing plane" report to track down the State Democrats in Texas in 2003. If you or I had done something similar we would probably still be sitting in a Federal Prison. Amazing how some laws only seem to apply to certain people.
Susan Ferrechio: I believe the Justice Department looked into that incident. For those who may not recall, a DeLay staffer called the FAA and asked them to track down a private plane transporting Democratic members of the Texas legislature who were fleeing the state to avoid a quorum and subsequent vote on redistricting there. No criminal wrongdoing was cited by federal officials who looked into the matter, but in Congress, the House ethics committee admonished DeLay for the action.
Do you have any idea what DeLay was talking about when he complained about Justice Kennedy doing research on the Internet? Certainly he isn't complaining about Justice Kennedy using Westlaw or Lexis, is he?
''We've got Justice Kennedy writing decisions based upon international law, not the Constitution of the United States? That's just outrageous,'' DeLay said. ''And not only that, but he said in session that he does his own research on the Internet? That is just incredibly outrageous."
Susan Ferrechio: DeLay further explained his comments about Justice Kennedy on Wednesday. He said he was disturbed that Justice Kennedy appeared to be consulting international law to help him decide matters before the Supreme Court. The members of the court should only be basing their decisions on U.S. law, DeLay said.
Could you comment on Connecticut Congressman Chris Shays' positions on Tom DeLay? I understand that he voted for HR5, which changed the Ethics Committee rules to make it more difficult to investigate DeLay, then signed on as a co-sponsor of the Mollohan bill that would have restored those rules to the status quo ante, then voted twice against Pelosi's discharge petition to move the bill to the House floor for a vote. Is that a flip-flop, or have I missed something?
Susan Ferrechio: Rep. Shays is considered among the most moderate of his fellow Republicans in the House. The rules changes he voted for were part of a package of rules for the entire House, so perhaps he did not feel strongly enough about the ethics changes to stop him from voting for other parts of the rules package. He has signed onto a bill that would reverse two of the rules changes and modify a third. He voted to table a resolution by the minority leader that would have called on the House Speaker to appoint a bipartisan task force to look at the ethics rules. I can't answer whether it appears he has flip-flopped, other than to say Shays has never been known to take controversial actions without well thought-out reasons.
DeLay and perhaps other Republicans are now very dissatisfied with judges nominated and approved in earlier Republican administrations. Is this a measure of how radicalized the Republican party has become in its headlong attempt to completely capture the faith-based voters?
Susan Ferrechio: This is an interesting question. I will stay away from characterizing what Republicans are doing, but I can certainly say that faith-based groups have a stronger influence on Republicans than they did 10 years ago, when the GOP first gained the majority. DeLay has expressed discontent with the judiciary for a while now, and says it is the duty and right of congress to check this other branch of government.
How is DeLay spinning it that the Congressional ethics investigation is a Democratic witch hunt when the Republicans hold a majority on the committee? Does he think we can't count?
Susan Ferrechio: The ethics committee is unique among all House panels, in that there is no majority. There are 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans. It is chaired by a Republican, Rep. Doc Hastings, of Washington state. Both sides have asserted their power on the committee at various times, the Democrats most notably these days holding up committee business by refusing to back the ethics committee rules which are required for it to function.
Last year, when DeLay received three rebukes by the committee, it was also chaired by a Republican and the votes were unanimous.
I can see the Tom Delay scandal ending very badly for the Democrats. The Republican party will never seriously investigate him, the Democrats will continue to vilify him, and the public will continue to ignore the whole issue. DeLay will win his seat in 2006 in a landslide - Texans don't like to be told what to do by a bunch of arrogant Yankees.
Susan Ferrechio: I think that if the ethics committee agrees on a rules package and starts functioning, it will investigate DeLay. The scrutiny of the press and public on this issue will make it difficult for the committee to do nothing.
Correct me if I am wrong, but wouldn't keeping DeLay in power, at least through the '06 election cycle, be advantageous to the Democrats? By having DeLay as the Majority Leader, with his credibility/ethical problems continuously seeping out to the public, help the Democrats make their arguments that the Majority is "corrupt and abusing power." If DeLay is ousted, Democrats lose that punching bag for the '06 elections and DeLay and his troubles are forgotten.
Susan Ferrechio: Republicans are definitely accusing Democrats of attacking DeLay for political purposes. Democrats deny this and say DeLay is responsible for his own problems. As the midterm election closes in, I suspect his name will factor in more widely than it ever had in a congressional election.
On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the worst political
money scandal, how does DeLay rate in your opinion, Susan?
Susan Ferrechio: I can't draw any conclusions, as there has been no investigation into DeLay, no examination of the facts.
For those who say that travel arrangements and payroll practices of other Congressmen and women should be played as loudly as DeLay's, is it not fair to say that DeLay's stature as Republican leader makes his ethical breaches more noteworthy? It's similar theory to those of us who wanted equal attention paid to marital infidelities of Newt Gingrich, Henry Hyde and others compared to Bill Clinton.
Susan Ferrechio: I think both Democrats and Republicans feel DeLay should be held to a higher standard because he is the majority leader.
Were the Democrats nastier or similar back in the 1980s? They keep saying that we've never done what Democrats have done (filibustering, etc...) but several examples are shown of Republicans doing the exact same thing.
Susan Ferrechio: There is definitely evidence that Democrats were not so kindhearted to the Republican minority.
West Chester, Ohio:
What role do you see Rep. Boehner playing in all of this? He seems to be waiting on the sidelines, as a potential successor to DeLay or the Speaker, if he doesn't run in 2006. Is Boehner lined-up to get back in leadership?
Susan Ferrechio: Boehner's name has definitely been circulated as a potential candidate for succeeding DeLay some day.
Fair Lakes, Va.:
What's the status of Ronnie Earl's investigation of DeLay in Austin?
Susan Ferrechio: In Texas, the grand jury last year indicted three close DeLay associates in relation to their fundraising tactics used in the 2002 state elections. The three were raising money for a political action committee he founded. Some corporations were also indicted and one or two has agreed to cooperate with the prosecutor.
Mr. DeLay strongly criticized Justice Kennedy a few days ago on a Fox News Radio interview expressing outrage that (1) Justice Kennedy allegedly relied on foreign law in a recent opinion and (2) that Justice Kennedy did his own internet research. While I disagree strongly with the first point, at least I understand that argument. As a lawyer who does her own internet research, however, I cannot even begin to fathom what the problem might be with Justice Kennedy doing his own internet research. Doesn't that get him out of the isolated ivory tower in which Mr. DeLay alleges the Justices hide out? Can you explain the internet comment or report on anyone else's explanation?
Susan Ferrechio: DeLay said Wednesday that the issue was Kennedy's alleged use of foreign law to make decisions on the bench.
I think that Tom DeLay's "excesses" regarding income opportunities for his relatives and vacations paid by lobbyists will result in a lot of relatively innocent politicians having to scale back family payments and most trips. Still, it is hard to condone bad behavior on the basis that other people do it.
Susan Ferrechio: I think you are right that this issue invites serious scrutiny of all members, which is bound to result in change. Anyone remember the post office scandal?
I find one thing about DeLay's recent behavior fascinating and truly self destructive. As it becomes more and more likely that his pal Jack Abramoff is talking with the FBI, increasing the likelihood that that DeLay might find himself not just under Congressional scrutiny but actually on trial for money laundering, DeLay picks this time to go screaming about how judges are a pox on the civic landscape. If a trial could be in my future, I would say only nice things about judges. Any comment?
Susan Ferrechio: DeLay has been talking about reining in the judiciary for quite a while now. I remember him talking about it frequently in the 108th session. I don't think it's related.
What is your response to Tom DeLay's charges that these reports are a plot of a Democratic Party strategy to get rid of him? Are you, or have you ever been, a member of the Democratic Party plot to get Tom DeLay?
Susan Ferrechio: I think DeLay makes a valid point when he says Democrats will use this politically, to attack him. There is no question that politics play a role in all of this. This does not say anything about whether DeLay has done anything wrong, however.
Susan, why can't these elected representatives and senators understand that they appear to many of us to be terribly foolish in how they are managing the affairs of the Congress? It's no wonder that most of the other people in the world look at us as a "dysfunctional society". I take this viewpoint from Europeans I met last year on a trip to Germany, France, and Norway.
Susan Ferrechio: I think members are actually very responsive to public perception, but I see what you mean. On the other hand, look at the oil-for-food scandal at the U.N. Europeans have a much richer history of corruption in government than anything we see in the United States.
Silver Spring, Md.:
Do you think privately many Republican members of Congress feel that Tom DeLay has become a liability, particularly with the mid-term elections approaching, and that he should step down from his leadership position?
Susan Ferrechio: I don't think many want him to step down, but I think they want him to explain some of the allegations. He has been, to them, one of the most effective leaders ever. And he accomplishes the most important feat of all - building the majority by adding Republican seats.
Susan Ferrechio: Well thanks everyone for great questions. I'll wrap this up now so I can get back to covering Congress.