House Speaker Dennis Hastert, leading the Republican retreat, said Wednesday he stands ready to "step back" on new ethics rules that Democrats charge are designed to shelter embattled GOP leader Tom DeLay.
Hastert said he intends to send a letter to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi signaling his willingness to repeal the controversial rules changes.
The GOP leader said he hoped to arrange a vote Wednesday to revert to old rules governing ethics investigations, thus ending a partisan stalemate.
Hastert's comments came after a closed-door meeting of the GOP rank and file, the latest in a string of private sessions in which Republicans discussed ways to stem the political damage from an ethics deadlock that has become entwined with DeLay, the controversial majority leader.
"I think they just took the heat," Pelosi, a California congresswoman, told reporters. "I think there's been an editorial in every paper in the country saying this is wrong," she said.
Democrats have prevented the ethics committee from getting down to business for the year. They have demanded that Republicans agree to reverse the ethics rules — seen as devised to thwart a committee investigation of DeLay — or else appoint a bipartisan panel to draft new rules.
Hastert told reporters outside the meeting that his intention earlier in the year had been to create a new set of rules that was fair to all lawmakers, regardless of party. Given Democratic criticism, he said, "I'm willing to step back."
"We need to move forward with an ethics process," he added.