By LAWRENCE M. O'ROURKE
April 15, 2005
But Rep. Alan Mollohan, the ranking Democrat on the House ethics committee, said that a Republican initiative fell short of providing a fair, thorough and bipartisan ethics process.
In an interview, Mollohan said he rejected an offer by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., the new chairman of the ethics committee, for a guaranteed vote on ethics complaints but an automatic dismissal of the complaint after 45 days if a majority of committee members did not vote to go forward with an investigation.
"Any amount of time calling for an automatic dismissal is wrong," Mollohan said, declaring that ethics committee members could not give full consideration of complaints if they were working under a time constraint.
DeLay's called on the House floor for a fixed time for preliminary investigation out of fairness to the subject of the investigation.
Mollohan, from West Virginia, said Hastings broached the idea of the 45-day automatic dismissal to him Wednesday.
"We sat down and that was the first time that Doc made a proposal," Mollohan said. "He gave me his word that no complaint would be dismissed just by the passage of time, but that there would be a vote within the 45 days."
"I told Doc that I knew he was sincere," Mollohan said, "but I said he was making a promise he could not fulfill."
Mollohan said the Hastings proposal would start the clock running immediately on the filing of a complaint. The member facing the complaint would get 30 days to answer, and that would leave only 15 days for the committee to consider the merits of the case and the extent and worthiness of any testimony that might be needed and gathered.
More important than the negotiations over time and procedure, Mollohan said, was a need to restore bipartisanship to the committee.
Until now, said Mollohan, the House ethics process "has been characterized by its bipartisan nature. That was the premise of the ethics committee."
But that was damaged when the Republican majority pushed through new ethics rules on the first day of this year's session, Mollohan said.
On the House floor Thursday, DeLay defended the ethics rules the Republican majority adopted in January. He also acknowledged that steps are needed to restore bipartisanship in the ethics process.
Dan Allen, a spokesman for the Texas Republican, said Hastings was working closely with Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., to fashion a new set of rules that could break the impasse and allow the committee to open a probe into the allegations against DeLay.
DeLay made his comments in an unusual and lengthy exchange with House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland.
DeLay said that the rules could be changed to speed up ethics investigations and to set up ground rules that protect the rights of individual members who face possible charges of wrongdoing.
Such rules could be adopted while "protecting the integrity" of the House, DeLay said.
He said that the old ethics rules tended to create a situation in which the ethics committee deadlocked on party lines and kept allegations against members alive for months.
Hastings did not return a telephone call asking for his comment about DeLay's statement on the House floor.
DeLay discussed the ethics situation hours after President Bush defended him as a "very effective" leader who has "gotten a lot done" on Capitol Hill.
Appearing before the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the president said he believes DeLay wants the House ethics committee to review the charges that he violated House rules in his fund-raising and foreign travel.
"He's willing to step up and talk to the ethics committee about it," the president declared.
Bush's defense of the Texas congressman came as Democrats continued to press their demand for an ethics committee investigation that could put DeLay under close scrutiny for months.
Stepping up her effort to draw attention to DeLay's situation, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., forced a House floor vote on a privileged resolution that sought to restore bipartisanship and independence to the House ethics committee.
On a roll call vote, the Pelosi resolution was rejected 218-195. Some 192 Democrats, two Republicans and one independent voted in favor of the resolution, while 218 Republicans voted to kill it.
The two Republicans who voted with the Democrats were Reps. Joel Hefley of Colorado, who earlier this year was dropped as the ethics committee chair, and James Leach of Iowa.