Appearances matter. Republicans know how true appearances can seem. For the better part of the last 20 years, Republicans have been schooling the Democrats on how to sound good, even while doing bad things and looking bad to those who are paying close attention.
Republicans have gotten so cocky lately that they speak and act with impunity. They have figured out that they can say one thing while doing another, knowing that the press, the public and the opposition will listen to the words coming out of their mouths, without discerning their true intentions. The latest example came today.
House Republicans suddenly reversed course Monday, deciding to retain a tough standard for lawmaker discipline and reinstate a rule that would force Majority Leader Tom DeLay to step aside if indicted by a Texas grand jury.The true nature of DeLay's duplicity is evident in the words of his spokesman: "denying the Democrats their lone issue. Anything that could undermine our agenda needs to be nipped in the bud." By denying the Democrats, they can refocus on their agenda, which in this case is making sure that DeLay maintains leadership of the House.
Republicans gave no indication before the meeting that the indictment rule would be changed. Even more surprising was DeLay's decision to make the proposal himself.
Jonathan Grella, a DeLay spokesman, said DeLay still believed it was legitimate to allow a leader to retain his post while under indictment. But Grella said that by reinstating the rule that he step aside, DeLay was "denying the Democrats their lone issue. Anything that could undermine our agenda needs to be nipped in the bud."
Rep. Mark Kirk (news, bio, voting record), R-Ill., said, "It's a mark of a leader to take a bullet for the team and not for the team to take a bullet for the leader. I'm very glad we decided to stick with the rules."
Hastert spokesman John Feehery said that a change in standards of conduct "would have been the right thing to do but it was becoming a distraction."
Brendan Daly, spokesman for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, said Republicans pulled back on the discipline rule because "the issue simply became too hot for them to handle."
That truce ended last year when a freshman Democrat, Chris Bell of Texas, filed a complaint that led to a rebuke of DeLay. The House ethics committee cited the general rule several times in criticizing the majority leader.
However, the panel did not find that DeLay violated any other standard of conduct, even though it concluded that DeLay created the appearance that an energy company's political donors were given special access to him. DeLay also was admonished for his office's contact with federal aviation officials, seeking their intervention in a Texas political dispute.
Later, the ethics panel — formally the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct — also admonished Bell for filing a complaint that presented an exaggerated description of DeLay's conduct.
The outgoing chairman of the ethics committee, Republican Joel Hefley of Colorado, issued a statement before the meeting opposing any change in conduct rules that was not bipartisan.
Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said, "Tom DeLay is a poster boy for ethics problems in the House."
It's hard to believe that Democrats truly think that Republicans changed their position because the issue was "too hot." If Brendan Daly really speaks for his boss, Nancy Pelosi, then the Democrats are playing checkers on a chess board.
DeLay, Hastert and the GOP leadership have once again outsmarted the Democrats by simply playing politics like poker. DeLay knows that the party will make sure that the investigations go nowhere, and he gets to appear moral and resolute by supporting the current standards.
Good work, Mr DeLay. You are a credit to your party.