House Democrats defused at least temporarily a Republican effort to rail for an hour on the House floor about Democratic cover-up or foul-up in the matter of a secret court proceeding last week. The Democrats stole the Republicans' act.
Minority Leader John J. Rhodes (R-Ariz.), came back from a week of political speech-making thinking the country was disgusted enough with the House as a result of the Abscam disclosures about alleged bribes to House members. Then Rhodes got filled in on how lawyers for the House had secretly gone into court here last week trying to quash a subpoena for records of Rep. Charles Wilson (D-Calif.), who is under investigation in a separate case. They failed.
Rhodes felt it was wrong and perhaps a violation of House rules for staff to have taken such action without approval of the House or at least of the joint leadership. (Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill said he had authorized the clerk of the House to act in such matters and considered the action proper because Wilson, unlike other subjects of subpoenas, had asked that the House resist it.)
Rhodes went on the House floor yesterday prepared to introduce a resolution ordering the House Rules Committee to investigate the matter. As author of the resolution he would control the one-hour debate allowed.
Just before Rhodes was ready to go, Rules Chairman Richard Bolling (D-Mo.) strolled over to his desk, picked up the resolution and introduced it as his own. That gave Bolling control of the time and after lecturing Republicans on the wisdom of ascertaining the facts before making speeches, he promised to make the investigation and report back as soon as possible. Then, he moved to cut off debate. That carried, 194 to 118, with Republicans voting against and the resolution was adopted, 314 to 0.
Rhodes told reporters later he thought it bad form for Bolling to steal his resolution, but he is more interested in establishing a policy that will let him know about any other subpoenas that are sent up for members' records. On the basis of the "sting" disclosures, he expects some.