House GOP approves leadership rule change

After hours of spirited debate, House Republicans passed a rule change yesterday that would allow Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) to retain his leadership post if he is indicted by a Texas grand jury.

The rule — introduced by Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Texas) but amended by other members — allows the Republican Conference to vote on the leadership status of anyone who faces a state or federal indictment, following a recommendation by the 30-member Republican Steering Committee.
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House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) could keep his leadership post if indicted in Texas.

According to the final rule, the Steering Committee must issue its recommendation within 30 legislative days, during which time the member in question must suspend his or her leadership duties.

The conference met for two and a half hours before passing a compromise measure by voice vote just after 1 p.m.

GOP leaders remained silent during the debate, which was carried out by rank-and-file members, and DeLay himself did not vote on the rule change; instead, he stood at the back of the room, counseling members who asked his advice.

“It was not leader-led, which is why it took two hours to do,” DeLay joked afterward.

House Republicans adopted the rule in 1993 in an effort to create a distinction between them and the House Democrats, whom they portrayed as corrupt.

After passage of the Bonilla rule, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) was the most outspoken critic of the new measure. Shays told reporters immediately after the voice vote that he believed it violated the principles of 1994’s Contract with America.

“I have a tremendous concern that you are seeing the erosion of those laws,” Shays said. “Too many of our members are slipping into business as usual.”

Shays said there was a growing sense among Hill Republicans that if members do not “play ball,” they will not receive chairmanships or plum committee assignments.

Bonilla’s initial rule was immediately challenged by a number of amendments, the first coming from Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), and the caucus spent most of the morning debating the measure, before moving on to other business around 11:30 while a smaller group of members moved to a separate room to decide a compromise.

In that meeting, Bonilla and Brady met with Reps. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), John Carter (R-Texas) and Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) while the other members discussed other measures on the table.

After the vote, DeLay took the occasion to take a shot at Democrats in Washington and in Texas.

“The Democrats have decided they are going to use the politics of personal destruction to gain power,” DeLay told reporters at an impromptu press conference after the vote. Because of that, DeLay said, the Republican Conference would not “let Democrats or political hacks decide our leadership.”

DeLay also dismissed any notion that this vote signaled an ethical lapse for the Republican Party. In a indirect challenge to Shays, DeLay rhetorically asked any member who disagreed with the vote to “name one instance we have lowered standards.”

Austin’s district attorney, Ronnie Earle, has indicted two DeLay fundraisers for their role in the controversial redrawing of Texas’s congressional boundaries, and DeLay himself is considered a possible target for indictment. Republicans charge that the effort is politically motivated.

“The Republicans’ hypocrisy is staggering,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement yesterday. “To change their own rules to allow someone indicted for a felony to serve as a top Republican leader is completely unacceptable.”