GOP 30 pick up a knife
Jonathan E. Kaplan and Patrick O'Connor

Reps. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) and John Sweeney (R-N.Y.) have been meeting with 30 House Republicans over the past few weeks to coordinate a more aggressive strategy to defend Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), according to a Republican source familiar with the meetings.

Starting last night, Republican lawmakers had planned to speak on the House floor during special orders to defend their embattled majority leader. The lawmakers will say that Democrats are just as guilty as Republicans are of oversights in their record keeping and of taking trips paid for by private groups.

"The Republican Conference has not yet awakened to the fact that this is a full-frontal attack against Republicans, leadership and against Mr. DeLay," said Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), one of the most committed lawmakers. "What we have is a lopsided effort by the Democrats to burn down the House."

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), also involved in the group, said, "We're frustrated by Democratic hypocrisy," adding that the group would fight back in floor speeches, press releases and letters to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to highlight Democrat's travel violations.

"We can't simply play defense," he continued.

Another GOP lawmaker said, "We're a group of people who think we've been involved in a knife fight and it's time we pick up the knife."

Asked for names of Democrats who were vulnerable to ethics charges, Republicans cited members of the Democratic leadership and Congressional Black Caucus. But Sessions said the mission was not to level ethics charges against Democrats.

Jennifer Crider, Pelosi's spokeswoman, said, "House Republicans are clearly trying to change the subject from their own problems, but Leader Pelosi and House Democrats will not be distracted."

Republicans have been alleging hypocrisy by Democrats for many months and have encouraged reporters to investigate Pelosi.
"They have been trying to infer that there were quid-pro quos for appropriations earmarks, false allegations about Pelosi's travel and fundraising," a senior Democratic spokesman said.

Nevertheless, both sides have been making renewed efforts to report travel expenditures accurately. On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that Eddie Charmaine Manansala, Pelosi's special assistant for East Asian affairs, filed a travel expense report six months late.

The Hill also learned that Richard Oliver Butcher, legislative assistant to Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.), also filed late, turning in a disclosure form March 11. He reported expenses of $5,487 for transportation, $2,000 for lodging, $600 for meals and $1,000 for interpreters and travel inside Korea. He misdated the original form.

Republicans yesterday suggested that Manansala's trip, last summer, cost more than the $9,087 he reported. But documentary evidence on the trip, undertaken by five Republicans and two Democrats, suggests that the cost for each were nearly the same.

The staffers on the trip were David Hemenway, legislative assistant to Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.); Kevin Fitzpatrick, legislative director for Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio); Jason Larrabee, legislative director to Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.); Benjamin McKay, former chief of staff to Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.); and Frederick Ratliffe, legislative director to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

Hemenway mistakenly doubled his transportation costs, but his expenses were the same as the others who stayed for the full week. He reported $2,000 in lodging costs, $600 in meals and $1,000 for calls to the U.S., travel within Korea and interpreters.

The trip was sponsored by the Korea-U.S. Exchange Council, which had mistakenly declared itself an entity of the Korean government. Ethics rules do not permit lawmakers and staff members to accept trips from foreign entities.

In 2001, the Exchange Council footed the bill for several lawmakers, including DeLay, to go to Korea. DeLay reported that his trip to Korea cost $13,000.