Democrats: GOP abusing power for DeLay
Top Republican says majority leader won't step down
Embattled lawmaker Tom DeLay speaks to the NRA.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Top Democrats assailed House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on Sunday over ethical questions that have put him at the center of a political firestorm, while Republicans came to his defense.
In appearances on political TV talk shows, congressional Democrats accused DeLay and fellow Republicans of an "abuse of power" in handling questions over DeLay's fund raising and overseas trips.
But Republicans struck back, accusing Democrats of political opportunism.
"Tom DeLay will stay as leader," Rep. Roy Blunt, the third-ranking Republican in the House, said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Democratic leaders took aim at changes made to the House Ethics Committee, saying the revisions were aimed at preventing an investigation from determining whether DeLay has violated House rules.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said Republican leaders "neutered" the committee.
After the 10-member committee admonished DeLay three times in 2004 and talk of a possible probe by the committee grew, Republican leadership in the House changed a central rule. The committee can now launch an investigation only if a majority of members support the idea.
Given that the panel is evenly divided between the parties, that would require at least one Republican member agreeing to investigate DeLay.
In response to the changes, Democratic members have refused to let the committee meet.
"I think the single thing that's gotten people most upset about Tom DeLay is not the back and forth on the ethical issues -- we do see that in Washington all the time -- but when he asks that the Ethics Committee be totally declawed, that it would have no power," Sen. Chuck Schumer said on ABC's "This Week."
"When Tom DeLay didn't like their findings, he basically got his majority in the House to undo it," the New York Democrat said. "That's an abuse of power. That's overreaching."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, told CNN: "What bothers me is the Republicans, when things aren't going their way, tend to try to change the rules."
And Hoyer said on "Fox News Sunday" that Democrats would not "meet with an Ethics Committee that is neutered by the Republican leadership."
"The issue here is the abuse of power. And it's not just Tom DeLay," the Maryland Democrat said. "It's a Republican abuse of power."
Lott: 'Manufactured controversy'
Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, told ABC the DeLay debate "is a manufactured controversy."
"It's a continuation of the politics of personal destruction we've seen in Washington for years," he said. "This is because Tom DeLay is an aggressive, strong leader who has done a fantastic job in the House of Representatives for 10 years."
Changes made to the ethics committee were "not abuse of power," he added. The new rule just says "that to go forward with an investigation, you need at least one member of the other party. If you have all of one [party], you need one of the other to make it truly bipartisan," he said.
And Blunt said, "It's no more difficult to file an ethics charge than it ever was."
But Rep. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, pointed out it was Republicans who established the previous rule allowing members of one party to order a probe. The rule was implemented in 1997, two years after Republicans gained control of the House.
"The Republican Revolution came in [and] changed the rules so that one party couldn't block an investigation of its own member," Frank told NBC. "And when that began to bite, they've changed them back again. That's the pattern, by the way, that the Republicans have engaged in on a whole lot of things."
Frank said he and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich were reprimanded by the committee.
"The difference between us and Mr. DeLay is, I think, we changed our behavior," he said. "Mr. DeLay changed the Ethics Committee."
Blunt countered that DeLay "wants the Ethics Committee to reorganize, so he can go to the committee" and lay out the facts.
"Tom DeLay wants to lay out that case. I think our friends on the other side know the only effective way he can do that is if the Ethics Committee does its work," Blunt said on "Meet the Press." "And they're using what I think is a totally spurious, trumped-up reason to say that the Ethics Committee can't do its work."
DeLay has called himself the victim of "just another seedy attempt by the liberal media to embarrass me" and has lashed out at Democrats for a "strategy of personal destruction." (Full story)
Although most Republicans have stood by him, some have expressed serious concerns. Connecticut Rep. Chris Shays said last week that he thinks DeLay should step down.
"It's been harmful to the Congress," he said. "I think it's been harmful to the Republican conference, a conference that ran on the highest ethical standard. I also think it's harmful to Republicans up for re-election."
Gingrich and Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania called on DeLay to step forward and lay out all the facts.
Ten Republican former members of Congress wrote a letter to the House leadership this past week opposing the changes made to the ethics committee, calling them "obvious action to protect Majority Leader Tom DeLay."
DeLay, speaking to the National Rifle Association convention Saturday in Houston, Texas, did not directly address the ethics allegations. (Full story)
But in an apparent reference at one point, he used a line he attributed to gun-control advocate Sarah Brady, the wife of Jim Brady, a former spokesman for President Reagan who was shot in an assassination attempt on Reagan in 1981.
"Sarah Brady said that when a man's in trouble or in a good fight, you want all your friends around them, preferably armed," he said. "So I feel really good."
Much of his trouble stems from his relationship with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is known as "Casino Jack" for making a fortune from the gambling operations of Indian tribes. (Full story)
News reports said Abramoff and other lobbyists paid for two of DeLay's overseas trips, which is prohibited by House rules.