RAY SUAREZ: Republicans have increased in numbers in both chambers of the 109th Congress, holding a ten-seat majority in the Senate and a 30-seat margin in the House. And among those joining the expanded House majority is Florida Republican Connie Mack IV, whose father served in both the House and Senate.
FORMER SEN. CONNIE MACK III: When I was elected to the House 22 years ago, Connie was 15 years old. I had no idea that he had an interest in politics. He called me one day, about five years ago now I guess, and said, "Dad, what would you think if I told you I was thinking about running for office?" And I was kind of shocked, to tell you the truth, but he said, "Great, go for it."
REP. CONNIE MACK IV: The advice I get from him is the advice you would expect a father to give his son, you know: Tell the truth, look people in the eyes and tell them what you mean, and always try to live with character and grace. And you can be successful.
SPOKESPERSON: Mr. Bennett of Utah...
RAY SUAREZ: And then, just after noon on the floor of the Senate, Vice President Cheney began the formal process of swearing in 34 members elected last November, nine of them for the first time. They included Illinois Democrat Barak Obama, the only African- American in the new Senate, and just the fifth in the Senate's history.
There are also two Hispanic senators, Democrat Ken Salazar of Colorado and Republican Mel Martinez of Florida, the first Cuban-born U.S. Senator. There already is one vacancy in the House of Representatives. California Democrat Robert Matsui died last weekend, and a special election to fill his seat is expected in March. Meanwhile, the other 434 members were sworn in this afternoon en masse by speaker Dennis Hastert.
SPOKESPERSON: Congratulations. You are now members of the 109th Congress.
RAY SUAREZ: Soon after the handshakes and the well-wishes, the House got down to business, a series of Republican-written rule changes. Republican leaders originally wanted to relax some of the ethics rules that govern members after a year in which their majority leader, Tom DeLay, was admonished three times by the House Ethics Committee.
But during a meeting with House Republicans last night, Speaker Hastert withdrew a proposal that would have restricted Ethics Committee action against a member only if he or she violated a specific rule rather than the House's long-established code of conduct. California Republican David Dreier is chairman of the House Rules Committee.
REP. DAVID DREIER: This is a rules package which allows for bipartisan process at the Ethics Committee level. The committee on standards of official conduct is the committee which has the responsibility of working to ensure the integrity of all the members of this institution. The package that we have before us does just that.
RAY SUAREZ: Republicans last night also restored a rule requiring party leaders who are indicted to step aside. That reversed action they took two months ago in an attempt to protect Majority Leader DeLay, who is under investigation by a Texas grand jury for fundraising violations. Watching this all unfold has been Norman Ornstein, a long- time Congress watcher with the American Enterprise Institute.
NORMAN ORNSTEIN: So DeLay probably gets some credit within his caucus now for backing off from something that would have been damaging to everybody to protect just him, but probably at very little cost to himself. My guess is -- and it's only a guess -- that Mr. DeLay went back down to Texas over the recess, investigated and found that the likelihood of him being indicted down there was actually fairly small.
And DeLay also recognized that after the publicity that had been given to this particular adventure, that if he were indicted and he stayed in as a leader, that, practically speaking, it would be very, very deleterious to him. So there was no gain to be made in trying to bull rush this issue through, this reform, rules change through, and a whole lot to lose.
RAY SUAREZ: The sudden change in direction was due in part to the objections of Colorado Republican Joel Hefley, the chair of the House Ethics Committee.
REP. JOEL HEFLEY: You know, I'm going to support this rules package. I wasn't going to. I came here today fully expecting not to support it, but because of the action taken last evening, where we reconsidered some of the suggestions that had been made, I think we have a package now that we can live with. I think the previous speaker said we're gutting the Ethics Committee standards now. Well, we're not. I would not be standing up here encouraging people to support the rules package if in any way I thought we were gutting it.
RAY SUAREZ: Still, New York Democrat Louise Slaughter, the ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee, criticized the intent of Republican leaders.
REP. LOUISE SLAUGHTER: The fact that they ever even considered changing the rules of the House in this disgraceful manner is a sad commentary on the ethical compass of this body's leadership. They also planned to eliminate a 30-year standing rule that members of Congress could be disciplined for actions that brought dishonor and discredit on this House, the people's House.
It's hard to believe there was a time in the not-too-distant past when the Republicans touted their high ethical and moral standards. Mr. Speaker, it seems to me this entire episode has been a violation of the public trust.
NORMAN ORNSTEIN: Because of a large public backlash and the sense this issue was not going to go away, the Democrats would pound away at Republicans the way the Republicans had pounded away at Democrats in the early 1990s. They tactically decided to back off on a couple of the most controversial provisions.
Frankly, I'm not at all convinced that when it came to changing the rules, so that only a specific violation of the rules in a technical sense could result in an ethics charge, or changing the rules to, in effect, exonerate Tom DeLay would have passed the House. There were enough Republicans uneasy about the appearance of spurning any kind of ethical sensitivity that they might have been embarrassed with a defeat.
RAY SUAREZ: Representative Zach Wamp said we don't want DeLay to be an issue. We want our agenda to be the issue. So this takes that off the table. I feel like I've just taken a shower. Is that what happened?
NORMAN ORNSTEIN: Conservatives like Zach Wamp and J.D. Hayworth of Arizona, who were part of the Gingrich revolution, were profoundly uneasy about losing the integrity issue, but also didn't want DeLay to become this overwhelming issue himself. So you had a question of integrity and a question of pragmatism that drove some of them to try and bring about this change.
RAY SUAREZ: One proposal that did make it to the floor today would require a majority vote of the evenly divided Ethics Committee to launch an ethics investigation. The current system allowed an investigation to begin automatically if there is no committee action within 45 days.
NORMAN ORNSTEIN: What the Republicans have done, even as they've backed off from some of the more controversial changes that they've suggested, is to move forward with a provision that would let one party block an investigation from moving forward.
Don't mistake the tactical retreat in two areas on ethics with a sudden revelation that they had better be holier-than- thou, because what the Republicans have done is to go forward with the most pernicious change, if it comes to making sure you have some way of having ethics investigations going forward by ensuring that a partisan approach can block it.
RAY SUAREZ: Early this evening, that scaled-back package of ethics rule changes passed the House, with every Republican voting for it and every Democrat voting against.