No one should be the least bit surprised if this comes to pass:
House Republicans have until noon today to propose any rules changes to inoculate Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) from losing his leadership position should he be indicted in a campaign-finance criminal probe back in Texas.
Republicans dismiss the investigation by Travis Country District Attorney Ronnie Earle as a politically motivated witch hunt, but GOP internal conference rules are clear that any elected member of the leadership must temporarily relinquish his position if indicted on a felony count that could lead to more than two years in prison.
“We’re in the process of receiving proposed rules changes. The deadline is noon tomorrow, and we have yet to receive any proposals dealing with leadership or their tenure,” said Greg Crist, spokesman for the House Republican Conference.
In a reorganization meeting tomorrow, the conference will consider any potential changes to its internal rules.
One senior GOP aide said that a handful of lawmakers are discussing whether or not to make the proposed modification. But he added that they were under no pressure from DeLay’s office, or other House leaders, to do so.
“Any effort to modify that rule would be outside DeLay’s office,” another GOP leadership aide said.
The Republican rule requiring any elected leader to take leave of his leadership position pending the outcome of an indictment dates back to 1993, when Republicans sought to draw attention to the ethical problems of then-Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.).
If Republicans did attempt to change the rule, Democrats would accuse them of rank hypocrisy. Republicans must weigh that likely media maelstrom against the potentially more damaging prospect of having their majority leader forced to step down as a result of a campaign-finance indictment.
In the early ’90s, when House Republicans were in the political wilderness, they latched onto a series of ethical scandals in making their claim that the majority power had been corrupted by its years in power.
“We need new leadership which will act because it is right, not because they have been caught in cover-ups and scandals,” DeLay said on the House floor in 1992.
“Once again, what we are pointing out here is that we are outraged at the mismanagement of this House, and it is not just this last year. It has been going on for years. It is the arrogance of power, the lack of follow-through, the ‘Oh, yes, we can push that over in the corner and not address it.’”
DeLay has already been admonished on two separate occasions this year by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, actions stemming in part from an ethics complaint filed by outgoing Rep. Chris Bell (D-Texas).
Bell compiled his ethics complaint with the help of outside groups. Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) would like to change that practice.
In an Oct. 8 letter to colleagues, Dreier asked for their input on changing the rules on filing complaints. In response to Dreier’s letter and to bolster their charge of hypocrisy, Democrats unearthed a 1997 quote from Dreier where he said, “In our view, there is an inherent conflict of interest when only members are involved in evaluating ethics complaints against their peers.”
For those of you who need a refresher on the various DeLay scandals, Thomas Nephew points to this Mother Jones article by Lou DuBose, coauthor with Jan Reid of "The Hammer", which sums up the current state of affairs. I share Thomas' fondness for this quote:
Ronnie Earle doesn't buy it. The 62-year-old district attorney is approaching the end of 27 years in office and has said he would have retired were it not for this case. Earle has the somber countenance of a hanging judge and a sense of humor as arid as his West Texas origins. Investigating the TRMPAC case has been slow, he says, because it's like "watching clowns climb out of a Volkswagen. There are a lot more in there than I imagined."