Video: DeLay probe

updated 4/21/2005 4:27:43 PM ET 2005-04-21T20:27:43

Republicans and Democrats vied Thursday to gain political advantage from a stubborn deadlock over the ethics committee, one day after the GOP offered to open an investigation of Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi denounced the offer as a sham unless accompanied by a bipartisan change in GOP-imposed rules. “This ethics process has been corroded by the Republicans,” she said. “Democrats will not be accomplices to it.”

Republicans said the response by Pelosi and other Democrats unmasked their true agenda. They “would rather have an ethics ‘issue’ to demagogue than a fair and reasonable ethics process,” said a statement that one GOP office circulated to members of the rank-and-file for public distribution.

‘A political punching bag’
“And would rather use Tom DeLay as a political punching bag than conduct a full and fair investigation of the leader’s alleged misdeeds,” the statement said.

DeLay, whose overseas travel is under scrutiny, has denied violating any laws or House rules, and has said he is eager to present his case to leaders of the panel.

The logjam made an early appearance unlikely.

Rep. Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, the senior Democrat on the ethics committee, said he knew of no progress toward resolving the impasse. He and other Democrats rejected the latest offer from the Republicans on Wednesday.

He said initial plans for the committee to meet during the day were put off because some panel members had plans to leave town for the weekend.

DeLay was admonished three times last year on a unanimous vote of the ethics committee. Republicans unilaterally pushed through a change in rules when the new Congress convened in January.

Moves to protect DeLay alleged
Democrats contend the changes were designed to shield DeLay from further scrutiny, and they have refused to allow the panel to get down to business for the year.

Video: Russert analysis One of the changes requires dismissal of a case unless a bipartisan majority votes for an investigation within 45 days. The panel has five Republicans and five Democrats, meaning that neither side, by itself, has a majority.

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Under the previous rule, an investigation would automatically begin unless the committee voted otherwise.

Members of the GOP rank and file have become restive in recent weeks, fearing that Democrats have been gaining a political advantage with their charges that DeLay was being sheltered.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the committee, has offered concessions in an attempt to break the deadlock, culminating in Wednesday’s offer to open an investigation into the majority leader “at the earliest opportunity.”

At the same time, Speaker Dennis Hastert, D-Ill., issued a veiled warning that Democrats could also wind up under an ethical cloud.

“There’s probably four or five cases out there dealing with top level Democrats,” he said Wednesday in a radio interview with broadcaster Sean Hannity.

“There’s a reason that they don’t want to go to the ethics process and as long as they can keep somebody dangling out there like they have Tom Delay, they take great glee in that.”

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