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Ethics Panel Astir on DeLay, Rules


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

At one point, it looked as though Republicans and Democrats would resolve their differences over the House Ethics Committee, but they've been unable to agree on staffing, and that means that the investigation of Majority Leader Tom DeLay is completely stalled. Here's NPR's Andrea Seabrook.


To talk about where the House Ethics Committee is now, you have to remember what was happening a year ago. The powerful Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay was admonished three times by the Ethics Committee. Then, House Republican leaders got together behind closed doors and drafted new rules for how ethics charges would be investigated. At the same time, they kicked out the committee chairman and two other Republicans who'd voted to admonish DeLay.

Then new charges began to surface that DeLay had taken foreign trips paid for by lobbyists. The result: outrage from congressional watchdog groups and Democrats, who saw the rules changes as a scheme to protect DeLay. Democrats boycotted the committee, keeping it from starting its work for the year. Finally, after months of angry words and bad publicity, Republican leaders relented and brought back the old bipartisan ethics rules. The committee was expected to immediately open an investigation of DeLay, but then nothing happened, and the two sides seemed no closer than they were a year ago. Why? Here's Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Minority Leader): Because the chairman of the Ethics Committee refuses to obey the rules of the House and provide for a non-partisan staff, and pursuant to Rule 9...

SEABROOK: Pelosi brought this motion to the floor, trying to bar committee chairman Doc Hastings from installing his own political guy into the key position of staff director, a job that is supposed to be decided on by both parties. And so the Democrats have, once again, blocked the committee. But many Republicans, including Majority Whip Roy Blunt, doubt this is Democrats' prime motivation for shutting down the Ethics Committee again.

Representative ROY BLUNT (Republican, Missouri; Majority Whip): They like the status quo. They like an investigation that can't begin, so you have the charges out there that can't be proven or disproven. And also, you don't have this story growing bigger than one individual.

SEABROOK: That individual? Tom DeLay. Since the allegations arose about DeLay's travel, there have been questions about errors in travel reporting among more than 200 other members of Congress. That's about half the House of Representatives. Many Republicans say Democrats gain two political advantages by keeping the Ethics Committee blocked up. One: They keep the focus on DeLay. And two: They keep that story alive through next year's congressional elections.

Meanwhile, there are ever-increasing questions about some key Republicans' ties to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Abramoff is under criminal investigation for allegedly scamming Indian tribes he represented. Abramoff is also a close friend of Tom DeLay's, and Democrats are now alleging Abramoff's lobbying firm worked with another key Republican: Ethics Committee Chairman Doc Hastings. That led New York Democrat Louise Slaughter to today call for Hastings' resignation as Ethics chairman.

Representative LOUISE SLAUGHTER (Democrat, New York): He cannot impartially judge DeLay's dealings with Abramoff when he has his own.

SEABROOK: Hastings says he's never met Abramoff, though, like many House Republicans, he has accepted campaign contributions from Abramoff and worked with his lobbying firm. So while the Ethics Committee is stalled out, the thicket of charges only grows. Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrea Seabrook covers Capitol Hill as NPR's Congressional Correspondent.