The Texas congressman's supporters - among them a dozen conservative organizations - staged a high-profile show of support by throwing a $250-a-plate gala in his honor that brought nearly 900 people to the Capital Hilton. The money will be used to pay for the event, organizers said.
Several congressional Republicans attended, including House Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri. President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were not invited, but Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman was there and sat at the head table with DeLay.
Taking the stage after other speakers had hailed him for his leadership in the Republican Party and the House, DeLay made only a passing reference to the problems that have sparked calls for an ethics probe, joking that one speaker had told reporters about a foreign trip they didn't know about.
Instead, DeLay told the crowd that as Republicans helped Americans find jobs and helped the country recover from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Democrats offered the country nothing.
"No ideas. No leadership. No agenda. And, just in the last week, we can now add to that list, no class," DeLay said, a reference to Senate Democratic leaderto school children that President Bush was "a loser." Reid later apologized to Bush adviser Karl Rove.
The crowd dined on filet mignon and salmon and a dessert of red-white-and-blue frosted cake decorated with candy hammers, a reference to the nickname DeLay earned when he was House majority whip. Several protesters shouted outside the hotel, some holding signs reading "Congress can't police itself" and "Congress-owned and operated by Tom DeLay."
"We're here tonight not because Tom needs our help but because we as conservatives continue to need his," said David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union, adding that DeLay is being "unfairly attacked."
Rep. Tom Feeney of Florida, while defending DeLay, said he thinks tighter ethics rules are inevitable. He supports a proposal to make lawmakers and congressional aides get their trips vetted by the ethics panel before they travel.
"We need going forward to have rules that are less gray and ambiguous and more black and white," Feeney said.
The ethics questions DeLay faces from Democrats and other critics stem in part from foreign travel arranged by, a lobbyist accused of defrauding tribal clients of millions of dollars.
DeLay has asked the House ethics committee to review his travel records. He has portrayed the ethics questions raised about him as a Democrat-organized smear campaign.
A poll released last month by the Houston Chronicle found support for DeLay has dropped dramatically in his district.
Abramoff is under investigation by a federal grand jury and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Americans for Tax Reform, a group run by gala organizer and DeLay and Abramoff political associate Grover Norquist, has been subpoenaed by the Senate committee.
By Sharon Theimer