The House's top Democrat yesterday called for a special counsel to look into Majority Leader Tom DeLay's role in an embattled Texas political action committee, ratcheting up an ethics dispute that has gripped the House in the closing days of the 108th Congress.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) surprised Republicans by gaining the House floor just after a 6:30 p.m. roll call, when the chamber was nearly full. Before they could rule her out of order, she introduced a resolution condemning DeLay (R-Tex.). GOP members sat stone-faced as the House clerk read the resolution's summation of the House ethics committee's four admonishments of DeLay's conduct, three in the past eight days.
Pelosi called on the committee to pursue another allegation, which it had deferred this week, and to hire an outside lawyer to help. Her resolution said DeLay has "displayed contempt" for the bipartisan panel by claiming that he had been exonerated and by calling the charges frivolous. Republicans immediately set the resolution aside on a party-line vote.
The 10-minute drama constituted the Democrats' first coordinated response to Wednesday's report in which the ethics committee's five Republicans and five Democrats admonished DeLay and warned him to "temper your future actions." Republicans responded with a flood of statements defending DeLay, ridiculing the charges and blaming vengeful Democrats for the fuss.
The ethics panel deferred action on allegations regarding the Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee. A Texas grand jury recently indicted three men associated with TRMPAC and with DeLay, but the majority leader has said he played no role in the PAC's daily operations. Pelosi cited a Thursday article in the Houston Chronicle that said "a newly obtained memo indicates" that DeLay had "personal involvement" in some of TRMPAC's key decisions.
Alluding to the tax cut and anti-terrorism bills passed by the House, DeLay said in a statement: "By contrast, the only bill brought to the floor by Democrats this week was a political smear."
-- Charles Babington