House Republicans on Wednesday offered to open an investigation into overseas travel and other activities by Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, as part of an effort to resolve a three-month impasse with the Democrats that has kept the ethics committee from functioning.
With questions mounting about DeLay's overseas travel and past dealings with lobbyists, ethics committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said he would name Rep. Melissa Hart, R-Pa., a lawyer who serves on the committee, to head a subcommittee to "review various allegations concerning travel and other actions by Mr. DeLay." Hastings said that it would be up to Hart's panel to decide whether to bring in an outside counsel.
But Democrats said the concessions outlined by Hastings did not address their chief objections to rule changes that the Republicans pushed through in January, most notably a new provision that would cause a complaint to be dismissed -- rather than lingering in limbo -- if the chairman and ranking minority party member cannot agree on taking it up.
The committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Alan Mollohan, W.Va., rejected Hastings' offer as "inadequate on a number of grounds" and said he would not lift his objections to letting the committee organize under the Republican-engineered rules.
"If we're going to have an ethics committee, we have to do it right," Mollohan said, noting that the current rules would "defeat the very purpose of the ethics committee, and that's to have credible investigations."
Still, Hastings' offer marked the first time Republicans have shown a willingness to compromise, after weeks of negative news coverage about the financing of overseas trips by DeLay and his dealings with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is now the subject of congressional and criminal investigations.
Some Republicans say they worry that without a functioning ethics committee, DeLay has no formal venue for trying to clear himself of allegations while the negative publicity continues to build.