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DeLay Backs Off Schiavo Remarks

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who angrily promised to go after judges who blocked Congress' effort to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case, said Wednesday that he regrets his rhetoric, but still wants something done.

DeLay told reporters he was emotional after Schiavo's death and shouldn't have said things the way he did, reports CBS News Correspondent Bob Fuss. But he said he is still asking the House Judiciary Committee to look at the way the courts rejected Congress' actions and wouldn't rule out trying to impeach some of the judges.

DeLay's comments came as White House spokesman Scott McClellan said President Bush considers the Texas Republican, who is battling ethics allegations, a friend, but suggested that the majority leader is more of a business associate than a social pal.

"I think there are different levels of friendship with anybody," McClellan said.

DeLay addressed remarks he made in the hours after the brain-damaged Florida woman died on March 31, following a long political and legal battle. "I said something in an inartful way and I shouldn't have said it that way and I apologize for saying it that way," DeLay said at a crowded news conference in his Capitol office.

Shortly after Schiavo's death, DeLay said it represented a failure of the legal system. DeLay's statement also said, "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior."

At his news conference, DeLay said, "I believe in an independent judiciary. I repeat, of course I believe in an independent judiciary." At the same time, he added, the Constitution gives Congress power to oversee the courts.

"We set up the courts. We can unset the courts. We have the power of the purse," DeLay said.

Asked whether he favors impeachment for any of the judges in the Schiavo case, he did not answer directly.

Instead, he referred reporters to an earlier request he made to the House Judiciary Committee to look into "judicial activism" and Schiavo's case in particular.

Congress enacted unusual legislation in the days before Schiavo's death in hopes of lending legal support to Schiavo's parents, who were seeking a federal court order to have their daughter's feeding tube reconnected. They were turned down at every level, including the U.S. Supreme Court, despite the measure that President Bush signed quickly after it passed.

DeLay said at the news conference that he was eager to appear before the leaders of the House ethics committee and give "everything I have" in connection with allegations of misconduct.

That committee, meanwhile, has deadlocked on a Democratic demand for changes in the rules that Republicans pushed through the House this winter.

The committee's leaders, Reps. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., and Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., said they had no plans to grant DeLay's request to appear before them until the committee sorts out its organizational difficulties.

Last week, President Bush put some distance between himself and DeLay after the majority leader suggested judges should be penalized for their decisions in the Schiavo case. Mr. Bush said he believed in an independent judiciary.

The president and DeLay have had a prickly relationship going back to Mr. Bush's assertion in 1999 that House Republicans were trying to balance the budget on the backs of the poor. When Mr. Bush pushed the House to pass a tax benefit for low-income families with children in 2003, DeLay told reporters, "Last time I checked, he didn't have a vote," referring to the president.

McClellan was questioned about his statement on Monday that the president considers DeLay a friend, in view of a scarcity of evidence of social ties between them.

"There are a number of congressional leaders that he works closely with on the Hill and he considers a friend," McClellan said. "I think there are different levels of friendship with anybody."

McClellan said the question posed to him Wednesday referred to social friends. "But no, he certainly is a friend. ... The president considers him such. And we support his efforts, along with the efforts of other congressional leaders to move forward on the agenda that the American people want us to enact."

Democrats have seized on the ethics allegations. One House Republican, Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut, has called for DeLay to step down. Other prominent Republicans, like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, have criticized DeLay's handling of the ethics controversy.

Gingrich told CBS News Correspondent Gloria Borger that Gingrich should stop blaming a left-wing conspiracy for his troubles and lay out his case for the American people to judge.

"DeLay's problem isn't with the Democrats," Gingrich said. "DeLay's problem is with the country. And so DeLay has a challenge: to lay out a case that the country comes to believe, that the country decides is legitimate. If he does that he's fine."

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