GOP doubts torpedoed DeLay rule

House Republicans breathed a sign of relief yesterday after Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) surprised them by asking them to repeal the rule that would have protected his leadership position in the event of an indictment.

However, some Republicans doubted that their leadership had enough votes to pass an overall rules package if DeLay had not rescinded the rule Monday and if Democrats had asked for a floor vote on the rules package yesterday.
House Republicans breathed a sign of relief yesterday after Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) surprised them by asking them to repeal the rule that would have protected his leadership position in the event of an indictment.

However, some Republicans doubted that their leadership had enough votes to pass an overall rules package if DeLay had not rescinded the rule Monday and if Democrats had asked for a floor vote on the rules package yesterday.
patrick g. ryan
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) suggested that Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) knew he didn’t have the votes to support a rule change.

Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), one vocal opponent of the proposed rule change, said there were enough protest votes in the Republican Conference to defeat the rules package if DeLay had not backed off from his controversial proposal.

Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), who also voted against the original measure, said he was not surprised by DeLay’s action but noted that he had not had any conversations with leadership about the decision.

In remarks to reporters yesterday, DeLay adamantly disputed any suggestions that his rule would not have passed and spokesman Jonathan Grella dismissed any speculation that Democrats would have had enough votes to defeat the rules package.

GOP members said DeLay’s decision took a potential weapon away from Democrats, who nevertheless used the opportunity to fire back at DeLay and the House Republicans.

“I would suggest to you that that was neither a philosophical nor substantive retreat,” Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters yesterday. Hoyer suggested that DeLay, a former GOP whip and “an extraordinarily good counter of votes,” knew Republicans who were upset with their leadership about the rule would vote against their own party.

“If the Republicans were confident the Democratic motion would not pass, they would not have changed the rule,” said Jennifer Crider, spokeswoman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Democrats also added a rule Monday night that requires members of their leadership to step down if indicted.

A number of House GOP aides for both the leadership and the rank-and-file members said they received a lot of negative feedback from constituents about the rule change during winter recess and thought DeLay made the right choice in rescinding it.

Although the GOP conference voted unanimously to rescind the DeLay rule, it required a majority of the committee, which is split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, to initiate an ethics investigation. The Republicans also removed a provision that automatically initiates investigations after 45 days.

Watchdog groups questioned the motives behind DeLay’s maneuver.

The Republicans “thought they could do it without flack, and they couldn’t,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics. “I think the Republicans miscalculated that.”

Democrats have also been “weak-willed” on ethics issues because they are equally concerned about a mounting ethics war, Sloan said.

Most Republicans took the occasion to rally support for DeLay. “It takes a big man to do what Tom DeLay did,” Wamp told The Hill. “He will certainly be more effective.”

Wamp added, “You never know the motive, but the outcome is very favorable to Republicans.”

Reps. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who both voted against the initial rule change, told the conference Monday night that they were honored to serve under DeLay and thanked him for his leadership.

Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), first to address the conference after DeLay’s five-minute speech, said the embattled majority leader was “taking another bullet for the team.”

Hastert has yet to announcement whether he will replace the current chairman of the ethics committee, Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.). But House observers said Hefley is likely to be asked to step down.