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DeLay Is Flown, Shown With a Supportive Bush

Times Staff Writer

With kind words and a ride aboard Air Force One, President Bush offered support Tuesday to House Republican leader Tom DeLay, who is facing sharp criticism over allegations that his ties to lobbyists violated House ethics rules.

Bush invited DeLay to attend a White House event here on Social Security. DeLay’s suburban Houston congressional district covers a small portion of Galveston County.

“I appreciate the leadership of Congressman Tom DeLay in working on important issues that matter to the country,” Bush said toward the beginning of his remarks on Social Security.

DeLay, who holds the No. 2 leadership job in the House, is facing questions about whether overseas trips he took were funded by lobbyists and foreign agents, a potential violation of House rules. News reports also have focused on DeLay’s association with a lobbyist for Indian gaming interests who is being investigated by a federal grand jury. DeLay was rebuked by the House Ethics Committee three times last year for other incidents.

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DeLay, who is 58 and serving his 11th term in Congress, has denied wrongdoing and has said he is the victim of an effort to undermine the conservative agenda in the House.

Support from Bush could be important to DeLay at a time when one of his House colleagues has called for him to give up his leadership post and another has asked him to step aside while the allegations are investigated.

When former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) was under criticism for remarks perceived as racially divisive, Bush criticized Lott, contributing to the impression that the lawmaker had lost support among Republicans. Lott resigned his leadership post soon after.

In Galveston, a few supporters approached DeLay to exchange greetings as he took his seat in the audience before Bush’s appearance.

Then a woman who later identified herself as Geraldine Sam, an elementary school teacher who said she was there as DeLay’s guest, touched off a round of applause by shouting: “We love you, Tom! Keep up the good work!”

Not everyone in the audience joined the applause. Still, a beaming DeLay responded to the recognition by rising to his feet and waving in a grand, sweeping gesture.

After the event, which was held at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Bush and DeLay rode in the president’s limousine to a nearby Coast Guard base. From there, a helicopter ferried them to Houston, where Air Force One was waiting for the flight to Washington.

Democrats jumped on the episode. Karen Finney, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee, questioned why Bush was “rewarding DeLay with a ride on Air Force One.... It’s time for George Bush to stop giving Tom DeLay a free ride.”

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Earlier, White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that the president looked forward to talking with DeLay on the flight “about how we can move forward in Congress on the important priorities facing the American people.”

McClellan said Bush backed the beleaguered House Republican leader “as strongly as he ever has, which is strongly.”

After arriving at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, DeLay told a reporter that he appreciated Bush’s support.

“It felt pretty good,” he said. “The president -- the strong show of support from the people of Houston, as well as the president -- we feel very humbled by the fact of that kind of support; also that it’s coming from our members and from people who believe in what we’re doing. The president was very gracious, and I’ve always appreciated his support, not just in this situation.”

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DeLay said he and Bush talked about the local Ellington Field airport, Social Security and the federal budget.

Asked about reports that a lobbyist had paid for DeLay’s overseas travel, he said: “I didn’t know that that went on.”


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