The expanding national debate over the ethics of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay took on a Western New York flavor Wednesday as Reps. Thomas M. Reynolds and Louise M. Slaughter traded salvos on the issue.
Described by Democratic opponents as "ethically challenged," Republican DeLay got the House to change its rules last year so he could stay in office if he were indicted for felony violations of Texas election laws.
DeLay, a Texan known as "the Hammer," replaced a Republican chairman of the House Ethics Committee after the bipartisan panel sanctioned him three times in recent months.
More recently, newspaper reports cited him for accepting trips and other favors from a foreign government, which is illegal, and for paying his wife and daughter $500,000 to run his political operations over the last five years.
"A dark ethical cloud hangs over the House," Slaughter said in a floor speech.
The Fairport Democrat did not criticize DeLay by name, which is forbidden under House rules.
But it was clear to whom Slaughter was referring when she said that "honesty, integrity, accountability -- values which should be a hallmark of this government -- have been instead thrown under the bus by an arrogant majority."
Slaughter, ranking Democrat on the House Rules Committee, spoke as others of her party, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., attacked DeLay by name in speeches off the floor.
DeLay has denied any wrongdoing. GOP allies said Democrats are unfairly targeting him as a way of regaining the majority.
Reynolds, a Clarence Republican who heads the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP's campaign arm, fired back.
"Nancy Pelosi desperately wants this issue to be the one that leads to her becoming speaker -- bottom line," Reynolds said.
Reynolds' and Slaughter's districts parallel each other from Niagara County to Monroe County.
DeLay has also come under fire for engineering an emergency session of Congress last month to pass a bill requiring federal courts in Florida to review state court orders to remove the feeding tube of Terri Schiavo. Her husband, Michael, had requested that the tube be removed because she had been in a persistent vegetative state for more than a decade. Terri Schiavo's parents opposed the removal.
After the federal courts reviewed the case and declined to order the feeding tube reinserted, DeLay commented that the U.S. district judge and U.S. appellate judges may have to "answer" for their conduct.
Pelosi accused DeLay of making "thinly veiled threats against the federal judiciary."
DeLay apologized Wednesday for his emotional reaction to the death of Mrs. Schiavo on March 31 but declined to say whether he favors impeaching the judges who ruled against his position.
While Reynolds and others are strongly supporting DeLay, other Republicans, possibly including President Bush, seem to be distancing themselves from him.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., told a meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors that DeLay may be "in trouble."
Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., has called for DeLay's resignation. Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee, R-R.I., said DeLay is "a shadow over his party."
Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., the GOP's third-ranking leader in the Senate, said DeLay should explain his actions in public.
At the White House, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan suggested that DeLay is more of a business associate to the president than a personal friend.