WASHINGTON – Democrats stepped up their attack on Majority Leader Tom DeLay (search) on Friday, forcing the full House to consider whether to appoint a special counsel to investigate the Texas Republican's conduct.
Republicans beat back the effort initiated by Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, defeating the call for a special counsel 210-182 with five members voting present.
The vote to table Pelosi's motion was decided along party lines. The five Democrats who voted present included four who serve on the House ethics panel.
The surprise move, coming in the closing days of the congressional session, left Republicans scrambling to deal with the Democrats' attempt to put a spotlight on DeLay's ethics troubles.
"It taints the whole House. This action of Tom DeLay taints the whole House," Pelosi told reporters. She complained Republicans have "gotten so casual about it, I don't think they realize how bad off they are."
"There's a pattern of behavior here that does not bring honor to the House. In fact, it discredits the House," she continued.
In a statement after the vote, DeLay called Pelosi's resolution "a political smear."
DeLay received his second admonishment in six days from the House ethics committee earlier in the week.
The panel said DeLay had created the appearance of linking political donations to a legislative favor and in another questionable action improperly got the Federal Aviation Administration to intervene in a Texas political dispute.
Earlier the ethics committee chastised DeLay for offering to support the House candidacy of Michigan Republican Rep. Nick Smith's (search) son in return for the lawmaker's vote for a Medicare prescription drug benefit.
Pelosi said DeLay had exhibited a pattern of unethical behavior that a special counsel should review. She suggested a special subcommittee of the ethics panel further look into DeLay's actions.
GOP Whip Roy Blunt complained that Pelosi had not given Republicans adequate warning that she intended to offer the resolution calling for a special counsel and he moved to set it aside, effectively killing the proposal.
Earlier, Rep. Joel Hefley, chairman of the House ethics panel, offered to reopen DeLay's most recent ethics case for a full investigation in response to complaints from DeLay that he was mistreated by the panel.
DeLay's attorney had sent a 33-page letter to Rep. David Dreier, House Rules Committee chairman, Thursday asking for changes in ethics rules and accusing Rep. Chris Bell (search), the freshman Democratic lawmaker who filed the ethics complaint against him, of libel.
"If DeLay and his lawyer feel he was treated unfairly, they can come back and we can open it all back up again" and do a formal investigation, said Hefley, R-Colo.
In response to DeLay's letter, Dreier wrote to all House members Friday suggesting a possible change in House rules. "It may be that we need to require a vetting of ethics complaints at the start of the process, not the end, to assure that they are not pursued for partisan reasons," wrote Dreier.
Meanwhile, the ethics panel is awaiting the outcome of a grand jury investigation in Texas, involving alleged campaign finance irregularities, before it decides whether to consider a complaint that DeLay engaged in money laundering.