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GOP May Change Rules for DeLay

Times Staff Writer

House Republicans may consider changing party rules today to allow Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas to keep his job as majority leader even if he is indicted.

Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Texas) has proposed eliminating the rule that requires House Republicans who are indicted by a state grand jury to step down from their leadership positions.

A Texas grand jury that has indicted three fundraisers with ties to DeLay still is investigating allegations of funneling illegal corporate campaign funds to state GOP candidates in Texas. “In this country, last I checked, you are innocent until proven guilty,” Bonilla said. “This prevents any crackpot political county attorney or district attorney from dictating the future of our leadership.”

The majority leader is particularly popular among House Republicans because he orchestrated the recent redrawing of Texas congressional districts in such a way that 21 Republicans won House seats in the Nov. 2 elections. The delegation had been an even split, with 16 GOP members and 16 Democrats.

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Under Bonilla’s proposed rule change, House Republicans still could vote to remove a leader indicted by a state grand jury. The rule requiring House leaders to give up their leadership posts if indicted by a federal grand jury would be unchanged.

A spokesman for DeLay said that House Republicans “should come to their own conclusions” on the possible rule change “without [DeLay] exerting undue influence one way or the other.”

DeLay was part of a conservative leadership team reelected by House Republicans on Tuesday to advance President Bush’s legislative agenda through the new Congress when it convened in January.

“What a great time to be a Republican in Washington,” said J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who was nominated by his Republican colleagues for a fourth term as House Speaker and was expected to be reelected by the full House in January.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, chose Harry Reid of Nevada to replace Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, who lost his seat to Republican Rep. John Thune.

Daschle had earned the enmity of Republicans for blocking Bush priorities such as the appointing of more conservative judges and limiting of medical malpractice awards. Reid showed signs Tuesday of doing more of the same.

While pledging to try to work with the enhanced Republican majority in the next Congress, Reid said he was prepared to battle for his party’s principles.

“I always would rather dance than fight, but I know how to fight,” Reid said at a Capitol Hill news conference.

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Reid urged GOP leaders not to “mess with the rules” by limiting Democratic filibusters. Senate rules now require 60 votes to cut off debate and force a measure to a vote; the new Senate will have 55 Republicans among its 100 members.

Reid, a miner’s son who grew up in Searchlight, Nev., said that while he hoped to work with Bush and congressional Republicans, Democrats would be pushing their priorities -- such as increasing the minimum wage, providing affordable healthcare and improving education.

“We realize we’re the loyal opposition,” he said. “The issues that come to the floor will be issues brought to us by the majority. We are going to do everything we can ... to improve that legislation.”

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) was elected to succeed Reid as minority whip, the second-ranking Democratic leadership post.

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House Democrats and Senate Republicans plan to elect their leaders today. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) is expected to be reelected House minority leader, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) is also expected to be reelected.

Among Californians, Rep. Christopher Cox of Newport Beach was reelected chairman of the Republican Policy Committee and Rep. John T. Doolittle of Rocklin won another term as secretary of the Republican Conference.

The first day of the lame-duck Congress also featured the return to the Senate of John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who was greeted with a standing ovation at a meeting of Senate Democrats.


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