House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, under fire for alleged ethics violations, accused liberal Democrats and the media of giving him a hard time in a keynote speech at the National Rifle Association's annual convention Saturday night in Houston.
DeLay only briefly mentioned the ethics accusations, telling members of the gun-rights group that he appreciates their support.
"When a man is in trouble or in a good fight, you want to have your friends around, preferably armed. So I feel really good," the Texas Republican said.
Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the No. 3 Republican in the House, said yesterday that he thinks DeLay will stay on in his post despite the ethics allegations.
"Tom DeLay will stay as leader. Tom DeLay is not going to run away from a fight," he told NBC's "Meet the Press."
The House ethics committee admonished DeLay last year on three separate matters involving what critics said were strong-armed political tactics.
More allegations have arisen this year over ties to lobbyists, foreign trips funded by outside groups, and salaries paid to DeLay's wife and daughter. Two of DeLay's Republican colleagues, Reps. Christopher Shays (Conn.) and Tom Tancredo (Colo.), have said he should resign at least the leadership position until the allegations are resolved. Others have called on DeLay to explain his actions.
About 2,550 NRA members each paid $75 to hear DeLay's speech and dine on salad with goat cheese and sirloin steak with peppercorn cognac sauce. Many wore stickers that read: "I'm for the NRA and Tom DeLay."
A district attorney in Texas is investigating a political fundraising committee DeLay helped begin to assist Republican candidates in the state's 2002 legislative elections. Three DeLay associates and eight corporations have been indicted in the investigation, although three companies have reached agreements with the prosecutor.
DeLay has not been charged with wrongdoing in any of the cases and has denied any legal or ethics violations.
More than 100 protesters gathered outside the hotel where the convention was held, many saying they were more concerned with deterring DeLay than with banning guns.
"He is an embarrassment to our district," said protester Patricia Baig, 57, a retired schoolteacher from Missouri City, Tex. "He doesn't represent his district, and it is time for him to do the honorable thing and resign."
The NRA, which has 4 million members, has helped elect Republican lawmakers, such as DeLay, who support the group's efforts to limit lawsuits seeking damages against gun manufacturers and distributors and to make sure a ban on assault weapons is not reinstated.
Wayne LaPierre Jr., the NRA's executive vice president, called DeLay the NRA's steadfast ally in Congress.
"His work to preserve our constitutional rights has earned the respect of his colleagues, our 4 million members, and millions of law-abiding gun owners across this nation," he said.
Earlier at the gathering, rock musician and gun-rights advocate Ted Nugent urged NRA members to be "hard-core, radical extremists demanding the right to self-defense" and to work daily to recruit new members.