House Republicans Ditch Ethics Plans; Refuse to 'Give Democrats an Issue'

Article excerpt

Byline: Amy Fagan, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

House Republicans last night cut back their proposed ethics changes, scrapping plans to allow party members under indictment to hold party leadership posts and to change House rules to require a higher standard of wrongdoing to chastise any member.

The changes came during a closed-door Republican debate of the proposed House rules for the 109th Congress. The full House will vote on the rules package today.

With the backing of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, House Republicans unexpectedly reversed a caucus rule change, made late last year, giving the party's steering committee discretion on whether an indicted leader stays or goes.

Mr. DeLay is under investigation by an Austin grand jury over fund raising in Texas politics, a probe he has dismissed as a partisan effort to use House ethics rules to force him out as majority leader.

Republicans agreed to return to their old caucus rule, which requires a party leader to relinquish his leadership post automatically if indicted.

Mr. DeLay said his party reversed last year's decision in order "to take it off the table."

A House Republican leadership aide said Democrats were planning to raise the issue during today's floor debate and Republicans wanted to prevent that.

"The Democrats are using the politics of personal destruction and we're not going to play their game," Mr. DeLay said.

Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, Illinois Republican, said, "It's a mark of a leader to take a bullet for the team and not for the team to take a bullet for the leader. I'm very glad we decided to stick with the rules."

Also, party leaders reversed themselves on ethics by scrapping a proposed change in the House rules to require that all members comply only with all applicable laws, regulations and rules.

Under current rules, the ethics panel can chastise a member for conduct that reflects poorly on the House, even if that conduct does not break laws or House rules - as happened to Mr. DeLay last year.

Republican leaders said members didn't like the proposed change.

"After talking to our members ... I think it was the wisest thing to do," Mr. Hastert said.

Late last night, Republicans approved a rules change that would require a majority vote of the evenly divided committee to proceed with an investigation, meaning at least one member of a congressman's own party would have to approve any probe. …