DeLay rule change

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After the 2004 congressional elections, the Republican Party changed an ethics rule requiring that members of Congress indicted by a grand jury resign any leadership positions they might hold. At the time, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), then House Majority Leader, was in danger of being indicted over a series of alleged ethics transgressions. As the rule change became a political liability, it was repealed in early 2005.


Adoption of the rule

In 1993, when the Democratic Party was still in control of the House, House Republicans adopted a rule that would require indicted Republicans to step down from any leadership positions they might hold. At the time, Republicans were trying to hold themselves to higher ethical standards to highlight Democratic shortcomings, specifically, pointing to the indicted the then-Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), who eventually pleaded guilty to mail fraud and was sentenced to prison.[1]

Rule change

Following the 2004 congressional elections, some of then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's (R-Texas) associates were indicted for their involvement in a Texas redistricting scandal, and it appeared that DeLay was in danger of indictment as well. With his position as House Majority Leader in jeopardy, DeLay and many other House Republicans sought to change its internal rule governing eligibility for leadership positions within the House.

A plan by Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Texas) was drafted to change the rule. The new rule would allow leaders indicted by a state grand jury to hold onto their position, though those indicted by a federal court would have to step down at least temporarily. A spokeswoman for Bonilla stated, "Congressman Bonilla's rule change is designed to prevent political manipulation of the process while preserving the original ethical principles of the rule."[2] Many other House Republicans supported the change; Peter King (R-N.Y.) argued that an indictment is a charge and not a verdict. He argued, "You shouldn't allow a runaway prosecutor to decide who will be the majority leader."[3]


Following the proposal, House Republicans became divided over the issue, many deciding not to support it, and many receiving harsh criticism from their constituents. Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.) argued that the rule change was a mistake. He commented that he was only one of "a handful" who spoke out against the change in the closed-door House Republican Conference. Shays told reporters, "I think it's a mistake... There were a number of Republicans who felt it was a mistake."[4]

Rule reversal

Following the winter recess, Delay asked House Republicans to repeal the changed rule. Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), who had opposed the change, doubted that DeLay would have had enough votes to pass the rules package had he not withdrawn the rule change, due to all the protest votes sure to come from the Republican Conference. A spokeswoman for then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) stated that "If the Republicans were confident the Democratic motion would not pass, they would not have changed the rule." Melanie Sloan from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics commented that the Republicans "thought they could do it without flack, and they couldn’t."[5]

DeLay indicted, steps down

On September 28, 2005, Delay was indicted by a Texas Grand Jury, and in accordance with the original rule, stepped down as House Majority Leader.[6]

Articles and Resources

See also


  1. Charles Babington, "GOP may change rule to aid DeLay," San Fransisco Chronicle, November 17, 2004.
  2. Charles Babington, "GOP may change rule to aid DeLay," San Fransisco Chronicle, November 17, 2004.
  3. Charles Babington, "GOP may change rule to aid DeLay," San Fransisco Chronicle, November 17, 2004.
  4. Laura Litvan, "House Republicans Change Rules to Protect DeLay," Bloomberg News, November 17, 2004.
  5. Patrick O'Connor, "GOP doubts torpedoed DeLay rule," The Hill, January 5, 2007.
  6. "DeLay indicted, steps down as majority leader," CNN, September 29, 2005.

External resources

External articles