As the 109th Congress convenes today, Republican lawmakers make a surprise move in the ethics scandal surrounding Majority leader Tom Delay. We speak with DeLay biographer Lou Dubose. [includes rush transcript]
As the US Congress swears in its newest members as part of the 109th Congress today, Republican lawmakers took a move on Monday that some political analysts say was intended to strip Democrats of ammunition against the GOP in the ethics scandal dogging Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
House Republicans suddenly reversed course Monday, deciding to retain a tough standard for lawmaker discipline and reinstate a rule that would force Majority Leader Tom DeLay to step aside if indicted by a Texas grand jury. Already, three of DeLay’s associates were indicted by a Texas grand jury in September in connection with illegal fund raising. The prosecutor has said the investigation is not yet finished.
The surprise dual decisions were made by Speaker Dennis Hastert and by DeLay who asked GOP colleagues to undo the extreme act of loyalty they handed him in November. Then, Republicans changed a party rule so DeLay could retain his leadership post if indicted by the grand jury in Austin. Republicans gave no indication before the meeting that the indictment rule would be changed. A spokesperson for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, said Republicans pulled back on the discipline rule because "the issue simply became too hot for them to handle."
Democrats on Monday toughened their own indictment rule. Previously, only committee chairmen were required to step aside if indicted. Now, the same rule applies to House Democratic leaders. The House will debate all new rules proposals Tuesday, the first day of the 109th Congress. Another Republican proposal would allow relatives to accompany a House member on a trip financed by a special interest group or nonprofit organization. Current rules specify a spouse or child may go along.
- Lou Dubose, author of a forthcoming biography on Tom Delay called, "The Hammer: Tom Delay, God, Money and the United States Congress."
AMY GOODMAN: We are also joined by Lou Dubose, author of a new political biography on Tom DeLay, called The Hammer: Tom DeLay, God, Money and the United States Congress. Your thoughts today on this what means for Tom DeLay, this sudden, last-minute move last night right before the opening of the 109th Congress.
LOU DUBOSE: You remember, it was not two months ago that he asked for the rule to be changed. Now he rescinded. He backed down, he backed away from the brink. There was only so much adverse publicity that one leader can stand. But do bear in mind that the conference yesterday voted to substantially weaken ethics committee procedural rules. They now will require the Republicans, the majority to vote. It used to be 4-4. After 45 days any complaint would be acted upon automatically. It now will require a Republican vote. So, you know, lost in this about the Republicans backing down on the most egregious rule is one — two rules — is one that will protect DeLay in the future and others in the future and Republicans in Congress. The ethics procedure is still under assault. They’re talking about pulling Joel Hefley, the committee chair, and replacing him with a DeLay lackey, Lamar Smith from here in San Antonio, who contributed to Tom DeLay’s defense fund, who benefited from tom DeLay’s restricting, redrawing of the state district lines in Texas, which is precisely is what Tom DeLay has gotten in trouble for. That’s why his three guys were indicted here in Texas.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about the grand jury and the prosecutor. I was just in Austin for the anniversary of the Texas Observer. Congratulations, Lou, for that.
LOU DUBOSE: Thank you. I didn’t know that you were here.
AMY GOODMAN: There was a lot of discussion about the prosecutor. Explain who he is he, and what is the possibility that Tom DeLay will be indicted.
LOU DUBOSE: Well, first, the complaint that this is a political witch hunt is preposterous. Ronnie Earle has gone — has prosecuted 12 Democrats and three Republicans. And he is a Democratic District Attorney with the statewide prosecutorial authority because he’s in the capitol and he has a special division that is charged with investigating political crimes. He has a very — he has what lawyers like in a case, which is the law and the facts on his side. It’s against the law in Texas to raise corporate money. They’ve admitted they raised corporate money. They raised corporate money and used it in elections. We don’t even have to say allegedly. Ronnie Earle, this is his last big case. He has been here for 26 years. He avoided retiring. He changed his mind over retiring to pursue this case, because he said, you cannot steal an election in Texas and brag about it. Tom DeLay has met a little man in terms of politics, who has real political stature and character and they’re worried that he won’t back down. He may well be indicted. If not, we’re going to have a long trial with a lot of discoveries that’s going to be pointing the fingers at a lot of the DeLay people.
There’s another DeLay scandal. $81 million was stolen from — by two lobbyists, was $81 million in lobbying fees were charged to six American Indian tribes by Jack Abramoff and Mike Scanlon, two close DeLay associates. That investigation is going on in the Senate. There’s a grand jury investigation in Washington and a couple of people are probably going to be indicted. They’re also looking at Congressman Bob Ney’s role in this, he would have been protected by the "never been indicted" rule if he’s indicted, because Bob Ney took a lot of money, took a $100,000 golf trip which they requested — Abramoff and Scanlon, two DeLay associates who were lobbyists, who charged these Indians $81 million essentially for nothing. Here is the leader of the House, you know, the majority leader, is surrounded by scandal. And it’s not — it’s everywhere. So, the ethics committee was neutered, and it will be neutered today, because it’s going to require the Republicans to vote — all of the Republican committee to vote to proceed with an investigation.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you comment on this other Republican proposal that would allow relatives to accompany a House member on a trip financed by a special interest group. Current rules specify only a spouse or child can go along.
LOU DUBOSE: Right. Well, you know, it’s just more pigs at the trough. This was a rule that when the Republicans were the good guys, you couldn’t take lobby perks anymore. When Newt Gingrich came in promising to clean up the Democratic corruption in the House. DeLay changed that rule three years ago to allow golf trips. It just broadens the number of people who can get lobby perks and essentially lobby payoffs. This golf trip to Scotland cost $100,000. Bob Ney went and — Congressman Bob Ney went after Jack Abramoff called the Indian tribes and said, "Give us $50,000 apiece to take a congressman who needs your help to a golf trip to Scotland." He also said, "We have done this one time before for you know who." "You know who" was Tom DeLay.
AMY GOODMAN: Lou Dubose, on that note, I want to thank you for being with us, biographer of Tom DeLay. His biographer is called The Hammer.