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Rove: White House 'strongly' behind DeLay

Bush aide says embattled House majority leader 'a close ally'


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White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove says Democrats are "desperate."
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House stands "strongly" behind Tom DeLay amid ethical questions over the House majority leader's fund- raising and overseas trips, deputy chief of staff Karl Rove said Monday.

Rove, the strategist who ran President Bush's two presidential campaigns, said DeLay, a Texas Republican, has been the target of partisan attacks by "desperate" Democrats.

"Tom DeLay is going to continue to be a strong and effective majority leader for the Republicans in the House," he said on CNN's "Inside Politics."

Though at least two congressmen have suggested DeLay should give up his leadership post until ethics questions are resolved, GOP leaders have backed the majority leader.

Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said Sunday the White House needed to speak up on DeLay's behalf.

"I do think the White House needs to remember that people who fight hard for you as a candidate and for your issues as a president deserve your support," the Republican from Mississippi said on ABC's "This Week."

Bush said last week that he looked forward to working with DeLay, but Lott told ABC that "I wish it had been more, frankly." (Full story)

Lott was pushed out of the GOP leadership after he told a 2002 birthday gathering for former Sen. Strom Thurmond that the United States would have avoided "all these problems" if Thurmond's 1948 segregationist presidential bid had succeeded.

"We strongly support Tom DeLay. He's a good man, a close ally of this administration," Rove said in a rare television interview.

Newspaper articles have said that DeLay went on overseas trips paid for by lobbyists. That would be a violation of House rules if proved to be true.

The majority leader says he has done nothing improper and told CNN earlier this month that he was the target of a "liberal media" smear campaign. (Full story)

DeLay was admonished three times by the House ethics committee in 2004.

Three of his associates have been indicted in Texas on charges they illegally raised money from corporations for that state's 2002 legislative elections.

Eight companies also have been indicted in the probe, although three have come to terms with the prosecutor.

DeLay may also be a target of that probe, but he has not been charged with any wrongdoing. He claims the Austin-based Democratic prosecutor is partisan. He denies any violations of law or ethics.

In December, the House Republican Conference passed a rule that would allow leaders to continue to hold leadership posts in the chamber while under indictment.

The change, which became known as the "DeLay Rule," was reversed the following month after heavy criticism.

Rove said he was confident the questions surrounding DeLay would be "resolved to everybody's satisfaction" by the House ethics committee.

But Democrats have accused DeLay's supporters in the House Republican Caucus of rewriting the committee's ground rules to make it more difficult to conduct an investigation.

According to the new rule, the committee can launch an investigation only if a majority of the members supports the idea.

Given that the 10-member panel is evenly divided between the parties, that would require at least one Republican member to agree to investigate DeLay.

Democrats have not agreed to the new rule, preventing the committee from conducting business.

At the same time, they have accused DeLay and other Republicans of trying to place themselves above the law. (Full story)

Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland said Republicans had "neutered" the committee.

"The issue here is the abuse of power -- and it's not just Tom DeLay," said Hoyer, the House Democratic whip. "It's Republican abuse of power. It's abuse of power in the House rules. It's abuse of power in the ethics process."

Rove said Democrats are attacking DeLay because they have no ideas of their own.

"I think they're just desperate," he said. "They're not offering ideas in the debate, they're not being constructive, and so some of their members are taking potshots at Tom DeLay."

CNN's John King contributed to this report.


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