Embattled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is drawing heat from some fellow Republicans who say his continuing ethics problems are harming the GOP.
"Tom's conduct is hurting the Republican Party, is hurting this Republican majority and it is hurting any Republican who is up for re-election," Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., told The Associated Press on Sunday. He called on DeLay to resign from his leadership position.
DeLay, R-Texas, has been dogged in recent months by reports of possible ethics violations. There have been questions about his overseas travel, campaign payments to family members and his connections to lobbyists who are under investigation.
It's the first crack in the solid GOP support for DeLay and reflects a wider held view that DeLay's ethics problems are starting to hurt his party, reports CBS News Correspondent Bob Fuss.
Shays has a long history of bucking his party leadership and was the first to publicly object to changes in ethics rules to try to protect DeLay. Still, any House Republican calling for DeLay to step down is a major development, says Fuss.
Also Sunday, Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, said that DeLay needs to answer questions about his ethics.
"I think he has to come forward and lay out what he did and why he did it and let the people then judge for themselves," Santorum told ABC's "This Week." "But from everything I've heard, again, from the comments and responding to those, is everything he's done was according to the law.
"Now you may not like some of the things he's done," Santorum said. "That's for the people of his district to decide, whether they want to approve that kind of behavior or not."
DeLay's spokesman, Dan Allen, told the AP that the congressman "looks forward to the opportunity of sitting down with the ethics committee chairman and ranking member to get the facts out and to dispel the fiction and innuendo that's being launched at him by House Democrats and their liberal allies."
The majority leader was admonished three times last year by the House ethics committee. The panel has been in limbo since March, when its five Democrats balked at adopting Republican-developed rules.
Shays said efforts by House Republicans to change ethics rules to protect DeLay only make the party look bad.
"My party is going to have to decide whether we are going to continue to make excuses for Tom to the detriment of Republicans seeking election," he said.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said last week that the controversy was distracting DeLay from dealing with more pressing problems before Congress.
Santorum, however, said DeLay is "very effective in leading the House" and "to date, has not been compromised."
A senior Democratic senator, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, had this advice for the Republicans who control both the House and Senate: "Be careful about how closely you embrace Mr. DeLay."
DeLay is "the poster child for a lot of the things the Democrats think are wrong about Republican leadership. As long as he's there, he's going to become a pretty good target," Dodd said on ABC.
DeLay, who took center stage in passing legislation designed to keep alive Terri Schiavo, also has found that President Bush and congressional colleagues are distancing themselves from his comments, after her death, about the judges involved in her case.
"The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior," DeLay said, raising the prospect of impeaching members of a separate and independent branch of government. Later, he complained of "an arrogant and out of control judiciary that thumbs its nose at Congress and the president."
Mr. Bush, declining to endorse DeLay's comments, said Friday that he supports "an independent judiciary." He added, "I believe in proper checks and balances."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee said last week that the judges "handled it in a fair and independent way," although he had hoped for a different result.
Democrats have said DeLay's remarks were tantamount to inciting violence against judges.