DeLay case fuels partisan sniping

Democrats in House denounce majority leader as corrupt, not fit for job


WASHINGTON -- Top House Democrats condemned Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, the leader of the Republican majority, declaring yesterday that the latest ethics case against him proves he has been corrupted by power and is unfit to lead.

"The ethical cloud that has been hanging over the Capitol has burst," Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, said at a news briefing. Mr. DeLay has proven himself to be ethically unfit to lead the party."

Other prominent Democrats joined Pelosi in condemning DeLay and calling for his replacement during a question-and-answer session that seemed to signal a new level of partisan bitterness in the House with elections less than four weeks away.

"Isolated incidents may be rationalized and minimized, but consistent patterns are powerful proof of corrupt practices," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the Democratic whip.

And Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, said that "Tom DeLay has allowed power to corrupt him" and that the Republican leadership was trying to "whitewash" the charges against him.

Speaker J. Dennis Hastert came to DeLay's defense yesterday, describing himself as "profoundly disappointed" in the ethics committee's finding against his fellow Republican.

Hastert said in a statement that DeLay "fights hard for what he believes, but he has never put personal interests ahead of the best interests of the country."

The Democrats were reacting to a report issued Wednesday night by the House ethics committee, which unanimously admonished DeLay after concluding that he had apparently linked legislative action to political donations and had dispatched federal officials to search for Texas legislators who were in hiding to avoid having to vote on a redistricting issue.

DeLay defended himself as soon as the report came out.

He accused Democrats of mounting "relentless personal attacks" on him in an attempt to tie my hands and smear my good name. All the attacks, he said, "have fallen short, not because of insufficient venom but because of insufficient merit."

DeLay's Republican supporters describe him as a good man and a good politician who is under attack for purely political reasons.

DeLay, who has been on Capitol Hill for two decades, is acknowledged as a strong party leader. He is also an effective fund-raiser and wields great power in Congress.

The latest report by the House ethics panel (formally, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct) admonished DeLay for participating in a golf outing held by a Kansas energy company so that he could raise money for one of his political action committees.

The outing coincided with deliberations on legislation from which the energy company stood to benefit.

The ethics panel, which has five Republicans and five Democrats, also admonished Delay for exhorting officials of the Federal Aviation Administration to track Texas state legislators who fled to Oklahoma last year to escape voting on a bill that reshaped the political landscape to benefit Republicans and give them perhaps four or more new congressional seats next month.

A challenge to the redistricting is before the Supreme Court, which has yet to rule on it.

The Texas episode might have seemed to be more slapstick comedy than political drama, but the ethics panel said DeLay's actions had raised "serious concerns" about the use of government resources for a "political undertaking."

The panel deferred action on a third accusation against DeLay -- that he improperly funneled contributions from a political action committee to the Republican National Committee -- because that matter is under investigation by a grand jury in Texas. The jury has indicted some of DeLay's aides, along with several companies.

Democratic leaders said the ethics panel's action -- the second in a week against Delay -- illustrated the depths to which the legislative process had sunk under DeLay.

Last week, the panel admonished DeLay for trying to persuade a Michigan Republican, Rep. Nick Smith, to change his vote on prescription drug legislation in exchange for political help for Smiths son in a congressional primary. (Smith did not change his vote, and his son lost the primary.)

"Let me point out, Waxman said, this is how legislation is done today -- bribes, threats, allegations of payoffs, concealment."

Republicans control the House, with 227 seats to 205 for the Democrats. There is one independent, Rep. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, and there are two vacancies.

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