|Tom DeLay- Corporate Whore|
By Larry MargasakAssociated Press
Published October 2, 2004
WASHINGTON -- Arms have always been twisted during close congressional votes on major legislation, but an ethics report rebuking House Majority Leader Tom DeLay added something the public rarely learns: What lawmakers really say to each other.The House ethics committee report even reveals what Republican members didn't say but were thinking as they unsuccessfully pleaded with Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.) to support a prescription drug benefit in Medicare.
The following are thoughts, comments and remembrances of the events last November, as told to ethics committee investigators for their report on attempts to pressure Smith.
As DeLay (R-Texas) approached Smith in late November 2003, he was thinkingthat he would be "stuck" talking with the Michigan lawmaker for a long time. He had talked with Smith before.That might explain why the following conversation lasted only eight seconds. DeLay: "I will personally endorse your son [a candidate for Congress]. That's my last offer."
There was, in fact, no first offer. DeLay said it was his exit strategy to end the conversation quickly.It was long enough, though, for the House ethics committee on Thursday to criticize DeLay for trying to trade a political endorsement for a vote.
The committee also rebuked Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) for a heavy-handed attempt at persuasion, and Smith himself, for making exaggerated statements about the pressure he received.
On Friday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, "This offer of a quid pro quo further taints the Republicans' Medicare prescription drug bill."
The attempts to link Smith's vote to his son's candidacy was pervasive throughout the ethics report. Brad Smith eventually lost in the primary as he tried to succeed his retiring father. Most of the approaches occurred during the predawn hours of Nov. 22, 2003, when the Medicare vote was held open by GOP leaders from 3 a.m. to 5:51 a.m. Normally, a typical 15-minute vote may be held open about five minutes for late-arriving members. The Medicare legislation passed 220-215 without Smith's support.
"Well, I hope your son doesn't come to Congress," Miller recalled saying as Smith stayed on the House floor after voting. Smith, rising out of his seat, said he responded, "You get out of here." Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.) was sitting nearby. He was thinking: "It was not pleasant."
After the marathon vote finally ended and members were leaving, Smith encountered Rep. Randy Cunningham (R-Calif.). Smith said Cunningham began waving what appeared to be a billfold."We've got $10,000 already ... to make sure your son doesn't get elected," Smith recalled Cunningham saying. Cunningham said he didn't recall waving the billfold and denied mentioning any specific amount.
Besides DeLay, two of the most important Republicans to approach Smith were Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. Members of the president's Cabinet are allowed in the House chamber. Thompson said he asked Smith if he "had any questions on the bill that I could answer, or if there was any information that I could provide." Smith said "no. "Was there "any chance" of a yes vote, Thompson asked. Smith said "no."
Hastert joined the conversation. He recalled telling Smith that a "yes" vote would be "good for the Republican Party" and "good for the president." He also recalled telling Smith that a vote for the bill would be a legacy that Smith could pass on to his children and grandchildren.
Rep. James Walsh (R-N.Y.) said he was thinking how hard he had worked on the Medicare bill, and how "frustrated" and "impatient" he was awaiting the outcome of the vote." Can't you help us on this one?" Walsh recalls asking Smith. Smith: No. Walsh: "Well ... then, Nick, maybe you ought to think about sending me back that check that I sent to your son."
Walsh, in fact, hadn't yet contributed to Smith's son's campaign although he did so several weeks later. Smith cast his vote early and could have left the House chamber, but he remembers thinking, "I should stay there and take my licks."
Smith said Friday the report failed to make one crucial point."What seems to be lost in the debate ... is the fact that many members refused to vote for the Medicare bill despite enormous pressure," he said.
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