House Republicans once again rallied in support of embattled Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) yesterday, dismissing new reports that raise questions about his travel and payments to members of his family as part of a partisan character assault.
Majority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.), the No. 3 Republican in the House, said at a news conference: "I don't see any wavering of support for the leader. I think a lot of members think he's taking arrows for all of us."
DeLay was hit by a fresh wave of ethical questions yesterday. The Washington Post reported that DeLay accepted a six-day trip to Moscow in 1997 that was financed by business interests lobbying in support of the Russian government. House ethics rules bar the acceptance of travel reimbursement from registered lobbyists and foreign agents. DeLay reported that the $57,000 trip was funded by a Washington-based nonprofit group.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reported that DeLay's political action and campaign committees have paid DeLay's wife, Christine, and daughter, Dani DeLay Ferro, more than $500,000 since 2001. On CNN, DeLay dismissed both stories as "another seedy attempt by the liberal media to embarrass me."
He appeared particularly incensed about the Times story. "My wife and daughter have any right, just like any other American, to be employed and be compensated for their employment," DeLay told CNN. "It's pretty disgusting, particularly when my wife and daughter are singled out and others are not, in similar situations in the Senate and as well as the House.
DeLay told CNN that the Moscow trip was properly financed and reported. "No member can be responsible for going into the bowels of researching what this organization, how it gets its money or how it's funded. The rules say if it's a legitimate organization that funds the trip and it's reported, it's legal."
Lawyers familiar with House ethics rules, speaking on background, said that DeLay is right in saying that he was not obligated to perform due diligence on the nonprofit group that paid for the Moscow trip, the National Center for Public Policy Research. One lawyer said, "It's this backdoor financing that creates an ethics issue, but it doesn't seem to be a fact that was known to him."
As for the payments to DeLay's wife and daughter, the lawyer said that under federal election regulations, "It's clearly legal to pay relatives provided they provide services at the going rate."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) , bolstered by a recent poll showing diminished support for DeLay in his Houston area district, said her party would make a strong attempt to unseat him. "There are several good candidates who have put themselves forward. . . . I think there are other candidates who are looking at the race now," Pelosi said.
Democratic-allied groups also stepped up efforts to portray DeLay as the face of the Republican Party. The Campaign for America's Future, a liberal group that previously ran an ad in DeLay's district, will begin running a new print ad this week that says "once upon a time" conservatives had high standards, but now have DeLay as their leader. The full-page ad will run today in the Washington Times.