WASHINGTON -- Supporters of House majority leader Tom DeLay proposed a Republican rules change yesterday that would protect the Texan's leadership position if he were to be indicted by a Texas grand jury that already has charged three of his associates.
House Republicans were expected today to approve the change in the rule that would force him to step aside if indicted. The show of support would be an endorsement of DeLay's position that the Travis County investigation is a partisan attack.
Currently, rules of the House Republican Conference, which includes all House GOP members, require leaders to step aside from the party post if they are indicted for a felony punishable by two or more years in jail. The proposed change would eliminate the step-aside requirement for nonfederal indictments.
The Texas grand jury is investigating alleged campaign finance irregularities in 2002 state legislative races. Republican victories in those contests enabled DeLay ultimately to win support for a congressional redistricting plan that resulted in the GOP's gain of five seats in this month's elections.
House Democrats have a step-aside provision that applies to chairmen or ranking members of committees who are charged with felonies. The language is silent on top party leaders, but Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California was nonetheless critical of the proposal. ''If they make this rules change, Republicans will confirm yet again that they simply do not care if their leaders are ethical," Pelosi said.
The language was proposed by Representative Henry Bonilla, Republican of Texas, who was helped by the redistricting.