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DeLay Returns to Hill, Questions About Ethics

By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 15, 2005; Page A06

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) spent 30 minutes greeting colleagues on the House floor last night as he returned to the Capitol after five days away from increasing questions about his relationships with lobbyists and groups that financed his travel.

"I feel good," DeLay said as he entered the chamber for a series of evening votes. He had been treated at a hospital Thursday for fatigue but then resumed a schedule in which he spoke to the Club for Growth in Florida on Friday and addressed a fundraiser in Georgia on Saturday before heading home to Sugar Land, Tex.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was treated Thursday for fatigue but then resumed his schedule.

While he was away, Republican aides, lobbyists and consultants said concern was growing in the party over news stories that detailed DeLay's travel with a lobbyist now under criminal investigation. Another article reported that one of the trips was indirectly funded by gambling interests, and DeLay later sided with those interests in a House vote.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) smiled as he chatted with DeLay last night but later did not answer questions from reporters about the Texan.

House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said during a meeting with Washington Post reporters and editors that DeLay is "driven by philosophy."

"I don't think I've ever been in a room where he said, 'We need to do this because some lobbyist needs it done,' " Blunt said. "I've often been in a room where I've heard him say, 'Okay, what's the most free-enterprise thing to do here?' And that's the one he wants to do."

Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said DeLay "has found himself in a feeding frenzy of politics."

"Democrats have been setting this up for a year," Reynolds said. "Some of it is old news, and some of it has been conjured up."

DeLay will hold his weekly news conference today. He will also deliver a 20-minute address touching on Social Security and other topics at the seventh annual "tax summit" of the National Republican Congressional Committee. DeLay's speech to the audience of 1,000 was to be closed to reporters, but the event was later opened. Advisers said they thought it would be smart to have him on television discussing the legislative agenda in front of a friendly audience.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan was asked whether President Bush still has confidence in DeLay. "The president works very closely with the majority leader and other members of Congress, and he appreciates the job that the majority leader is doing," McClellan said.

"Even with his ethical problems?" a reporter asked.

"You can direct those questions to his office," McClellan replied. "I'm sure they'll be glad to address them."

Last night, Hastert indicated no sympathy for the Democrats on the House ethics committee, who have prevented the committee from organizing for the year and have said they will hold out until the House repeals several rule changes governing ethics investigations.

"I don't quite understand this," Hastert said. "Does it mean somebody just pouts and stamps and they're not going to move rules because they want to do something else?"

Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) joined the Democrats' effort to reverse the rule change, saying it was a big mistake. "Unless changed, the weakened rules will forever call into question the ethics committee's work," he said.

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