GALVESTON, Texas – 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 second-ranking 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 have also 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.
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.
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.”