Emerson opposes Congress' new rule for DeLay

Saturday, November 20, 2004

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay would retain his leadership post even if indicted by a Texas prosecutor under a GOP rule change opposed by a minority of Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson of Cape Girardeau.

"I think that it sets a bad example," Emerson said Friday from Capitol Hill. "I just don't think that it passes the smell test."

There is no indication DeLay will be indicted by an Austin, Texas, grand jury in a probe led by a Democratic county prosecutor. In September, however, grand jurors indicted three DeLay associates and eight corporations in an investigation of allegedly illegal corporate contributions to a political action committee associated with DeLay.

By voice vote at a GOP caucus Wednesday, a majority of Republican lawmakers agreed to change a 10-year-old rule requiring any indicted House leader or committee chairman to relinquish his leadership post in Congress.

The lawmakers, after hours of debate, adopted a revised rule that would require members of Congress to step down from leadership posts only if convicted of crimes.

"We debated that for three hours at least," Emerson said. The caucus was attended by more than 250 GOP lawmakers.

Emerson was out of the room when the vote was taken. The Southeast Missouri congresswoman said several lawmakers were out of the room when the party leadership suddenly called for a voice vote on the issue.

The 8th District lawmaker said she had stepped out of the room to meet briefly with Southeast Missouri civic leaders to discuss U.S. 67 road improvements.

"I was only out of the room for 10 minutes, maybe," she said.

When she returned, Emerson discovered that a voice vote had been taken.

While there wasn't a roll call vote, Emerson said that "at least a couple dozen" of her GOP House colleagues opposed the rule change.

The decision might have been different if the issue had been decided by secret ballot rather than voice vote, Emerson said.

Some Republican lawmakers have said the rule change wasn't implemented to specifically protect DeLay but rather to guard against politically motivated prosecutions by Democrats.

Nevertheless, the Cape Girardeau Republican said that doesn't justify changing a House rule implemented by the GOP when it took control of Congress in 1994.

That rule, she said, was designed to show that Republicans wouldn't tolerate shady political practices.

Democrats never required House leaders and committee chairmen to resign their leadership posts if indicted.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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