Democrats: Republican 'Hammer' should step down

Outraged Democrats called Thursday for the resignation of senior Republican lawmaker Tom DeLay for a "disturbing pattern of corruption" following his censure by a House ethics panel.

The US House of Representatives' Ethics Committee on Wednesday unanimously admonished DeLay for improper activities and abuse of power.

"This is the second admonishment in less than a week and the third during the course of Mr. DeLay's career," said fellow Texas lawmaker and longtime DeLay nemesis Chris Bell, at a press conference Thursday.

"There's that old saying: Three strikes and you're out," said Bell, a Democrat.

Said Steny Hoyer, another top House Democrat: "He certainly ought to step aside as leader at this point in time, because I think his credibility has been undermined."

DeLay, who as House Majority Leader is the number-two member in the chamber, was rebuked for taking part in a golf fundraiser in June 2002 with officials from a large energy company while key energy legislation was being debated in Congress.

He was also reprimanded for improperly marshaling federal officials in May 2003 to track down Texas State House Democrats who had fled to Oklahoma to avoid a Draconian redistricting plan he had devised.

And last month he was admonished for trying to improperly influence the vote of a fellow Republican during a key congressional vote in 2003.

More charges may follow, congressional officials said.

Last month a Texas grand jury indicted three DeLay associates on charges of illegal fundraising and money laundering, and the Texas lawmaker is also being probed in that case.

For his part, DeLay pronounced himself satisfied with the ethics panel's findings, since the committee decided against formal censure and dropped some charges against him.

"I'm very pleased that ... the honorable people who serve on the ethics committee have dismissed the frivolous charges brought against me," DeLay said at a press conference Thursday, suggesting that the charges were calculated to hurt Republicans in an election year.

The hardline conservative lawmaker, one of the most colorful characters in the US Congress, is also one of the most feared. Nicknamed "The Hammer," he is not above twisting arms to get his way on legislation.

Prior to coming to Congress in 1984, he was the owner of a pest extermination business in Houston, Texas.