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House Dems call for DeLay to step down

Majority leader cited again by House Ethics Committee


• Ethics panel criticizes DeLay
Tom DeLay
Nancy Pelosi
House of Representatives

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The senior leadership of House Democrats, citing three rebukes of Rep. Tom DeLay by the House ethics committee in a week, called Thursday for him to be ousted as majority leader.

"Mr. DeLay has proven himself to be ethically unfit to lead the party," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters.

"Republicans must answer: Do they want an ethically unfit person to be their party leader, or do they want to remove the ethical cloud that hangs over the Capitol?" she said.

The latest actions make four times that the Texas congressman has been chastised by a unanimous vote of the 10-member, bipartisan ethics committee, she noted. "This is a pattern of unethical behavior by a man determined to win at any cost," the California congresswoman said. (House Ethics Committee admonishes DeLay again)

The committee announced Wednesday evening that it had admonished DeLay on two counts of an ethics complaint filed against him by Rep. Chris Bell, a lame-duck Texas Democrat who lost his re-election bid after Texas legislators passed a redistricting plan engineered by the No. 2 House Republican.

The committee raised objections to a June 2002 golf resort fund-raiser for DeLay's leadership PAC attended by energy company officials, which took place as House and Senate conferees were about to hash out energy legislation.

In a letter to DeLay, the committee said the fund-raiser created an "improper appearance." It also quoted one of the attendees as telling the committee that DeLay asked the group "to advise him of any interest we had" in the energy bill.

The letter noted that DeLay told the ethics panel that he did not remember making such a remark and that it would have been untypical for him to do so at a fund-raiser. However, the committee said the circumstances of the fund-raiser led the group to conclude that it appeared improper.

The committee also unanimously found that DeLay's office improperly contacted the Federal Aviation Administration in May 2003 to track a plane carrying Texas Democratic legislators, who had fled the state to thwart the Republican plan to redraw the state's congressional district map.

The ethics committee said the contacts with the FAA amounted to an improper use of governmental resources for a political undertaking, dismissing as "unpersuasive" DeLay's arguments that the contacts were proper.

The committee put off action on a third count in the complaint, which charges that DeLay, through his PAC in Texas, funneled corporate contributions to candidates for state office. Three people associated with the PAC, Texans for a Republican Majority, were indicted in Texas last month on money laundering charges.

Last week, DeLay was admonished by the committee on yet another complaint, related to a promise DeLay made to a fellow GOP House member to endorse his son's bid for Congress in return for the lawmaker's vote for the Medicare prescription drug bill. (Ethics committee criticizes DeLay)

With the admonishments, which carry no penalty, the ethics committee said it would take no further action on those two counts in Bell's complaint. In his statement, DeLay said the committee's decision amounted to "dismissing Mr. Bell's embellished allegations with bipartisan unanimity."

Several years ago, the ethics committee admonished DeLay for threatening a trade association that hired a Democratic lobbyist, Pelosi said.

DeLay on Wednesday released a statement saying he would "accept the committee's guidance." But he also accused Bell of "manipulating the ethics process of pursuit of his personal vendetta."

And on Thursday, he said he was "very pleased" that the committee members "have dismissed the frivolous charges against me."

Such comments riled the Democratic leadership.

"Let no one here be mistaken," said Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland. "The latest ethics charges were not dismissed, as Mr. DeLay incorrectly claims."

Hoyer said DeLay's "defiant and deliberately misleading statements last night show nothing but contempt for the ethics process and the high ethical standards that the American people want their political leaders to observe."

"Tom DeLay has allowed power to corrupt him," said Rep. Henry Waxman, the ranking member of the Government Reform Committee. "I think the Republicans can do a better job in finding a leader who will reach out and allow us to do our jobs in a nonpartisan, bipartisan, fair manner."

"Their greed will be their downfall," Pelosi said. "Anyone who has a critical eye about what is appropriate behavior will know that there is abuse of power here, there is behavior that borders on corruption."

But Rep. Ray LaHood of Illinois predicted that, so long as DeLay is not indicted in the money-laundering case, he will remain as majority leader and be re-elected to the job in January.

He dismissed Pelosi's call for DeLay's ouster, saying the Texan is but one in a long list of Republicans -- including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and newly installed CIA chief Porter Goss -- whose ouster Pelosi has sought. "This is her step-down person of the week," he said.

But, the senior lawmaker added, if DeLay is indicted in the Texas money-laundering case, rules of the Republican conference would require he step down as majority leader.

Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia also defended DeLay against the Democrats. "They choose to practice the politics of personal destruction while we're trying to work for the safety and security of Americans," he told CNN in a telephone interview.

But a top Republican leadership aide told CNN Producer Ted Barrett that some Republicans are saying DeLay could be in trouble politically, though he described the concern as "background griping."

Asked what the Republicans plan to do to bolster their public relations, he said, "We ... are in damned good shape."

He predicted November's election results will prove to be "the best PR we can get."

The White House refused to be drawn in to the dispute. "That's a congressional matter," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.

CNN's Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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