Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), one of Capitol Hill's leading conservatives, warned House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) yesterday that he needs to "lay out what he did and why he did it" if he is going to put an end to questions about his travel and dealings with lobbyists.
Another weekend critic was Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), a frequent DeLay antagonist, who said DeLay should step down. Shays told about 50 people at a town hall meeting in Greenwich on Saturday that he considers DeLay "an absolute embarrassment to me and to the Republican Party."
"If he ever runs for speaker, I get to vote on the House floor, and my 'no' vote combined with the Democrats' means he will never be speaker," Shays said, according to a report in Greenwich Time. The newspaper also quoted Shays as saying: "Do I think Tom DeLay will be the majority leader by the end of this term? No. . . . I don't think Tom DeLay is going to survive."
The comments by Shays and Santorum came amid growing signs of waning support from DeLay's friends. President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) all have taken more moderate positions than DeLay on restraining federal judges. On Friday, when Bush was asked about DeLay's comments that judges are out of control and should be held accountable, the president replied that he believes in "an independent judiciary." He said nothing about DeLay.
News articles have detailed two overseas trips paid for by a nonprofit group that, according to people involved, were indirectly financed by registered lobbyists. DeLay's staff has said that he knew only about the funding by the nonprofit group.
Santorum, who has been moderating some of his stands as he gears up for a tough reelection race next year, was asked on ABC's "This Week" about questions about family members on the payroll of DeLay's political action committee and about the financing of the majority leader's travel.
"If those things were not out there, obviously they wouldn't be raising them," Santorum said. "And so there are issues that he has to deal with personally."
Asked how he should do that, Santorum said he thinks DeLay "has to come forward and lay out what he did and why he did it and let the people then judge for themselves.
"But from everything I've heard, again, from the comments and responding to those, is everything he's done was according to the law," Santorum said. "Now you may not like some of the things he's done. That's for the people of his district to decide, whether they want to approve that kind of behavior or not."
Santorum added that DeLay "still has very strong support within his ranks, and he is very effective in leading the House -- and that, to date, has not been compromised."
DeLay spokesman Dan Allen repeated the majority leader's offer to meet with the chairman and ranking Democrat on the House ethics committee to clear up any questions. Allen said DeLay wants to "focus on the facts and dispel the fiction and innuendo that's being launched by the House Democrats and their allies."