Republicans made their second attempt in two weeks Wednesday to get a deadlocked House ethics committee functioning again, adding the new proposal to blunt Democratic demands for an investigation of DeLay. Some House Republicans have acknowledged the steady Democratic attacks have made them nervous.
Democrats gave no ground. They said they wouldn't allow the evenly divided committee to conduct investigations unless Republicans reversed a rule providing for automatic dismissal of cases.
The ethics committee's Republican chairman, Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington state, made the surprising offer to investigate DeLay, R-Texas. The proposal will go nowhere unless the Democrats provide votes to allow the committee to conduct business.
Democrats have criticized DeLay for taking foreign trips that may have been financed by clients of a lobbyist.
Lawmakers cannot accept trips from lobbyists, but DeLay has said he believed a nonprofit organization financed the travel as permitted under House rules.
Hastings proposed the DeLay investigation at a news conference flanked by three of the four other Republicans on the ethics panel. The committee also has five Democrats.
Senior committee Democrat Alan Mollohan of West Virginia quickly rejected the offer, saying his party would continue blocking the panel unless a bipartisan task force was appointed to write new rules for investigating lawmakers.
"The first principle in doing it right is that it be bipartisan," said Mollohan. "That's a beginning point for me."
Mollohan would not say whether he supported an investigation of DeLay, commenting that his effort to change the rules is "totally independent from any specific case."
Democrats want to revert to a rule in effect until last January, which provided for an automatic investigation if no action was taken on a complaint of wrongdoing. The new rules provide for automatic dismissal if the committee doesn't act within 45 days — a period that can be doubled if necessary.
"This is a problem that's going to continue until both sides sit down and decide how to organize themselves and what the rules of the committee can be," said CBS News National Political Correspondent Gloria Borger.
"At this point, though, this does give Tom DeLay the opportunity to say, 'I have offered to go before the House ethics committee and the Democrats won't let me do it."