House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) apologized yesterday for heated comments he made about possible retribution against federal judges for their handling of the Terri Schiavo case, but declined to say whether he favors impeaching those judges.
DeLay created a furor last month by saying that "the time will come" for federal judges who refused to restore the brain-damaged Florida woman's feeding tube "to answer for their behavior," and by criticizing what he called an "arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary." President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other top Republican leaders did not endorse those statements and said they support an independent federal judiciary.
DeLay addressed his earlier comments during a crowded news conference at the Capitol. "I said something in an inartful way, and I shouldn't have said it that way, and I apologize for saying it that way," he said. "It was taken wrong. I didn't explain it or clarify my remarks, as I'm clarifying them here. I am sorry that I said it that way, and I shouldn't have."
Nevertheless, DeLay said he wants the Judiciary Committee to look for ways to deal with what he called "judicial activism," and suggested possibilities such as curtailing certain courts' jurisdiction and even redrawing boundaries of the federal circuits.
"Congress has constitutionally mandated oversight responsibilities over the judiciary," he said. "We would be shirking our constitutional obligations if we did not look at these issues as they come up."
He would not say whether he favors impeachment for any of the judges in the Schiavo case.
DeLay launched his salvo March 31, after Schiavo died following a last-minute effort by Congress to force federal courts to intervene. Congress approved and Bush signed legislation giving federal courts jurisdiction in the Florida case after the state courts rejected pleas by Schaivo's parents to restore the feeding tube.
The Texas Republican, already under intense scrutiny for his ties to campaign fundraising activities and overseas travel, has drawn criticism from Democrats and some Republicans for his harsh statements about the courts.
"I believe in an independent judiciary," he told reporters.
DeLay, meanwhile, said he will not answer any more questions about his travel and dealings with lobbyists, as House leaders gauge whether support for him among Republicans will hold.
DeLay said he is willing to discuss the controversies with the House ethics committee, but because of Democrats' protests, the panel has been unable to meet.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) told CBS News that DeLay needs to stop blaming Democrats and do more to explain himself. "I don't want to prejudge him," he said. "My hope is that Tom will be able to prove his case. But I think the burden is on him to prove it at this stage."
People who are working in support of DeLay's position said the next several days would be critical, as leaders wait to see whether any other House Republicans call for his resignation. Last weekend, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), who has long feuded with the majority leader, called for DeLay to step down.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch, which has one of the nation's most conservative editorial pages, published an editorial yesterday with the headline, "DeLay Must Go."
House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) said members are standing by DeLay. "We know we're under attack," he said. "It's a scorched-earth policy."
DeLay's defenders continued to galvanize national conservative groups on the outside while blaming Democrats on the inside. Allies coordinated appearances on talk radio stations, and supporters were given talking points detailing the number of trips taken by Democrats.