And — was it a face-saving ploy because there were fears this would be a ticking political time bomb? — Delay himself reportedly played a role in it:
WASHINGTON – 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.
So far, so good…
However, the closed-door GOP meeting made one ethics change that could make it easier for one party to block a House ethics committee investigation of a congressman. The provision would require a majority vote of the evenly divided committee to proceed with an investigation.
The GOP voted to scrap the current system, which allowed an investigation to begin automatically if the two top committee leaders took no action on a complaint after 45 days.
AHA! A LOOPHOLE!
The proposals go before the full House on Tuesday. The rules changes include a decision to give new authority to the committee that oversees homeland security issues, a step that the Sept. 11 Commission had strongly advocated.
The surprise dual decisions on the indictment rule and the discipline standards were engineered by Speaker Dennis Hastert and by DeLay â€” 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 that charged three of the Texas Republican’s associates.
When Republicans began their closed-door meeting Monday night, leaders were considering a rules change that would have made it tougher to rebuke a House member for misconduct. The proposal would have required a more specific finding of ethical violations.
Republicans gave no indication before the meeting that the indictment rule would be changed. Even more surprising was DeLay’s decision to make the proposal himself.
But the most logical explanation is this:
Brendan Daly, spokesman 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.
So the contrast in the two parties would have been huge and telling.
And, indeed, one GOPer clearly indicated the party had faced nothing less than a public relations fiasco if the rules were changed to protect DeLay:
Rep. J. D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., agreed there was pressure on Republicans not to change conduct rules. "Constituents reacted and the House and, more importantly, the House leadership, responded accordingly," Hayworth said.
The next big test: are reports true that Congressional leaders want to replace Colorado Rep. Joel Heffley as House ethics chair to protect DeLay — and replace him with a fellow Texan who is more sympathetic to him?
There’s a bigger issue. What has been happening with the House Republicans is that they seem to be on a crusade to repudiate a certain political leader — Newt Gingrich. The look-the-other-way stance on DeLay is precisely what Gingrich fought against. Bull Moose writes:
As the year comes to a close, the Moose asks where have you gone Newt Gingrich, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you?
The Moose offers this query because Gingrich’s former colleagues seem intent on undoing everything their Moses accomplished. Say what you will about Speaker Newt, he was a determined reformist who attempted to transform the way the House did business.
However, the DeLay Republicans have something else in mind. When the new Congress forms next week, the Delayicans plan to reverse long standing ethics rules in the House to protect their leaders and advance their agenda of transactional democracy.
On this issue, at least, it seems as if the House GOPers pulled back from the brink. (For now.)