WASHINGTON – Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay urged colleagues Wednesday to "stand on principle" and ignore the media in a farewell speech to fellow Republicans.
DeLay, facing trial in Texas on campaign money laundering charges, is leaving Congress Friday, ending a 21-year career in the House.
Several rounds of applause and cheers could be heard from behind the doors of the Republicans' weekly private meeting. When the doors were opened to let a congresswoman in, members could be seen on their feet, cheering and applauding.
DeLay said later to reporters that he had advised GOP House members: "Don't listen to you guys in this town" and "stand on principle."
"We have been able to make history for 12 years and we'll do it again," DeLay said he told colleagues.
Later Wednesday, three Democrats marked DeLay's departure with proposed legislation to reform labor laws in the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory. Rep. George Miller D-Calif., said DeLay and convicted ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff have thwarted a decade of efforts to lift the islands' exemption from a range of U.S. labor, wage and immigration laws.
Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in January in a federal influence peddling probe, organized a trip for DeLay to travel to the Marianas, one of Abramoff's clients. After the trip, DeLay said he viewed the islands' clothing factories as a success and believed they should keep their exemptions.
DeLay is awaiting trial in Texas on charges that he was part of a scheme to launder $190,000 in corporate political contributions raised by a fundraising committee he launched.
The money was allegedly funneled through the Republican National Committee, which gave an equivalent amount to several Texas GOP legislative campaigns. Texas law bans spending corporate money for virtually all campaign expenses. A Texas prosecutor alleges the scheme was an effort to circumvent that law.
DeLay's associations with Abramoff also have come under scrutiny as federal prosecutors probe Abramoff's dealings with members of Congress and their aides in a bribery investigation.
Nonetheless, DeLay said he was leaving on a positive note.
"I don't bear any regret at all. I'm very excited about what the future may hold," he said. "I'm very proud of these members' records."
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said DeLay will be missed.
"Tom DeLay has been a friend. He's been a fighter for causes and he's been a leader of the country," Smith said. "We will miss him greatly, but I have a hunch he is going to continue to be involved in races, be involved in strategy. I hope he is."
Rep. Joel Hefley, who was a member of the House ethics committee that rebuked DeLay three times last year for ethics violations, said DeLay's departure is the best thing for the party now. He said DeLay told colleagues that Republicans need to unify as a party and win in the November elections.
"His prediction is we are going to keep the House," said Hefley, R-Colo.