By Allison Stevens
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Tom DeLay's fate as House Majority Leader could hinge on moderate Republicans. As very few speak out against him, some women's rights leaders see an important opportunity being lost.
WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)--As House Majority Leader Tom DeLay comes under increasing fire over alleged ethical infractions, few Republican advocacy groups--including those representing moderates--have been willing to criticize him.
These moderate Republicans could be critical to DeLay's political survival if they sought to turn the public tide against him or if they decided to vote against him in any future leadership elections.
Their circumspection is troubling to some women's rights activists, who view the scandal as an opportunity to topple a man they say has undermined women's rights--from presiding over a cutback in Medicaid to limiting abortion rights to tightening bankruptcy rules--while in power.
"It's sad, it's really sad," said Rep. Hilda Solis, a California Democrat who co-chairs the Congressional Caucus on Women's Issues, of moderate Republicans' quietude. "It's probably a fear of retaliation, which we know happens."
The vast majority of Republicans has either risen to DeLay's defense or kept quiet.
With the exception of two Republicans, Christopher Shays of Connecticut--a member of the dwindling band of Republican moderates--and his more conservative colleague, Tom Tancredo of Colorado--no other Republican representatives in Congress has so far suggested that DeLay resign. A few, however, have asked DeLay to explain his actions.
And most moderate Republican advocacy groups are not taking sides.
The WISH List, a political action committee in Washington, D.C., that helps elect pro-choice female Republicans to office, last week declined to comment on DeLay.
The socially liberal Republican Youth Majority did likewise, along with moderate groups such as the Ripon Society and the Republican Main Street Partnership.
The Log Cabin Republicans, a grassroots organization that lobbies for same-sex marriage and other gay-friendly legislation also declined to comment on the ethics controversy engulfing the man who is working to amend the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
Even some liberal advocacy organizations are staying above the fray. A spokesperson for the National Organization for Women, for example, said the controversy surrounding DeLay does not involve women's issues and offered no comment on DeLay's record on legislation involving women.
Republicans for Choice, the political action committee based in Alexandria, Va., was an exception in its readiness to speak in favor of ousting the man who is widely known here as "the hammer" for his hard-hitting political style.
"From our standpoint, a Congress where DeLay is not the majority leader is a better Congress," Ann Stone, chair of organization, told Women's eNews. She stopped short of calling on DeLay to resign, saying that decision should be left to members of the House.
This week offers pro-choice groups such as Republicans for Choice another reason to wince at the kind of legislation that is brought to the floor under DeLay.
Perhaps as early as Wednesday, house leaders are expected to introduce legislation that would authorize fines or prison time for individuals who try to circumvent parental consent laws by transporting a minor across state lines to have an abortion.
In the last Congress DeLay presided over the enactment of legislation--signed by President Bush and now being battled over in court--that had the potential to outlaw all abortions performed after the 14th week of pregnancy. He has also opposed what he and his allies call "activist judges," or those who have ruled in favor of abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
Critics of DeLay, such as Solis, say he has infringed on women's rights in ways that go beyond reproductive rights. They point to his support of proposed spending cuts to Medicaid, the state health insurance program for the poor and other federal programs that aid women and children. His support for legislation that makes it harder for debtors--most of whom are women--to get a fresh financial start by filing for bankruptcy, is criticized.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, says DeLay has also backed the administration's plan to allow workers to invest a portion of their payroll taxes into private investment accounts, which she says would have devastating consequences for women who depend disproportionately on Social Security benefits.
DeLay is "diametrically opposed to everything that women, and good men, have worked to get accomplished," Solis said.
Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite of Florida, Solis' Republican co-chair at the Congressional Caucus on Women's Issues, took issue with that characterization.
"I've always found Tom DeLay to be very supportive of women's issues," she said last week, noting that DeLay has appointed women to serve on his leadership team and that his views simply represent his district, which lies in and around Houston.
She predicted last week that the most recent controversy--over allegations that DeLay knowingly participated in several privately sponsored overseas junkets--will die down soon. Under House ethics rules, lawmakers are not allowed to accept funds to cover travel expenses from private sources.
DeLay has also been criticized for his involvement in his home state's redistricting process, his relations with lobbyists under investigation and payments made to his wife and daughter for their help on his political campaigns.
In a recent letter to his supporters, DeLay denied any wrongdoing and accused Democrats and their allies in the media of stirring up controversy for political gain. His spokesperson, Dan Allen, said his boss had no knowledge of private entities funding trips he believed were paid for by nonprofit organizations.
"I've never seen so much made of allegations made of unfounded charges," Brown-Waite said, adding: "When the facts came out, there wasn't a story there."
If DeLay leaves the No. 2 position in the House, Republicans for Choice--and other GOP moderates--would likely get a successor who is more inclined to listen to and work with moderate Republicans, said Stone.
Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the current majority whip, is often mentioned as a possible successor to DeLay if he steps down from office. Blunt shares DeLay's conservatism but is characterized as a more pragmatic dealmaker than DeLay.
Another possible replacement who has been mentioned is Rep. John Boehner, chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and a former GOP leader who has a reputation for reaching out to political opponents to pass bipartisan legislation.
Stone said she knew that the right-wing within the Congress relies on DeLay very heavily to shepherd bills.
"Should he decide to leave, or be put in a position to leave, I think that is going to help the moderates," she said.
Allison Stevens is Washington Bureau Chief at Women's eNews.
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