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GOP May Bring Back Ethics Rules

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House Republican leaders weighed additional concessions to Democrats Tuesday night as they struggled to limit political fallout from a virtual shutdown of the ethics committee.

GOP officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said party leaders were considering options including reversal of investigative rules changes they muscled through in January.

The Republican leaders met after steadily increasing attacks by Democrats, who contend the changes were designed to protect Majority Leader Tom DeLay from further investigation.

Democrats have made clear they won't allow the evenly divided committee to conduct business, including investigations of lawmakers, until the rules are reversed.

The chairman of the House ethics committee, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., offered concessions to Democrats last week, including an investigation of DeLay's conduct. Democrats rejected the offer, insisting they wanted the rules overhauled first.

A senior Republican aide said Hastings has concluded that his Republican colleagues must allow another vote on the rules passed in January if they have any hope of allowing the committee to function. However, a vote that does not undo the January changes would certainly be rejected by Democrats and the deadlock would continue.

The conclusion reached by Hastings may be unpopular with some Republicans since GOP lawmakers have had to defend their votes against the Democratic accusations and hometown editorials saying the rules were designed to protect DeLay.

Senior Republican aides who have been involved in the discussions on the rules said they were not authorized to be quoted by name.

DeLay was admonished by the committee last year on three separate aspects of his conduct, and new questions have been raised about whether a lobbyist — who is under investigation by federal authorities and Congress — paid for his foreign travel in violation of House rules. DeLay has denied any wrongdoing and said he believes the travel was financed properly by the groups sponsoring his trips.

Also Tuesday, President Bush hailed DeLay's advocacy of his Social Security overhaul in Texas.

DeLay was included in the event held near his congressional district — and offered a ride back to Washington on Air Force One along with a few other Texas Republicans — to show that "the president appreciates his leadership in the House," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller reports that Mr. Bush took the time to offer a DeLay personal salute, saying, "...I appreciate the leadership of Congressman Tom DeLay in working on important issues that matter to this country."

The ethics committee is one of the few places minority Democrats can assert power in the House because it is equally divided between five Republicans and five Democrats. The Democrats have refused to provide a sixth vote to allow the committee to commence operations.