Friday, June 16, 2006

Democrats vote to boot Jefferson off committee

The Democrats know a looming embarassment when they see one:

Democrats voted last night to strip Rep. William J. Jefferson (La.) of a plum committee assignment while he is embroiled in a federal bribery investigation.

The 99 to 58 vote followed weeks of public and private wrangling, as Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) sought to take a strong election-year stance on ethics, while Jefferson's allies -- mainly fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus -- protested that he was being singled out for unfair treatment.

The party vote to remove him from the Ways and Means Committee is nonbinding, so if Jefferson refuses to step aside the next step would be to a vote of the full House to force him out.

Normally I'm an "innocent-until-proven-guilty" kind of guy. But what's at stake here is a committee seat, not jail time. And committee members serve at the pleasure of their caucus. The caucus is not legally required to show cause before displacing one of their members; all it takes is a vote. Committee seats are a privilege, not a right.

Besides, the evidence against him is pretty compelling, including a former aide who has already pled guilty and implicated Jefferson. And who can forget the $90,000 in his home freezer?

Jefferson has one valid point: that there is no rule requiring him to give up committee assignments.

He noted that he has not been charged with a crime, and that "historically, even when a member of Congress has been so charged, he or she steps aside from a committee or subcommittee chairmanship, but not from the committee itself."

Fair enough. But on the other hand, why must we have a rule for every little thing? Rules help establish consistency in treatment of members, but they aren't a prerequisite for action.

Pelosi has a political motive, of course. She wants to use Republican corruption as a weapon in the November elections. And to do that she needs to cleanse her own house of embarrassing examples. So Jefferson can justifiably feel that he's being sacrificed on the altar of Democratic ambitions.

But in the end, that's just too bad. His citation of historical behavior ignores the fact that historically, "ethics" and "Congress" have not been favorably linked. Pelosi appears to be in the middle of redefining Congressional ethics. Even if her motives are far from pure, that's a good thing. And if it means members that are heavily implicated in a bribery scandal have to temporarily give up committee seats, I'm okay with that.

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Blogger Douglas said...

This is difficult for me to say, but I believe the Democrats did the right thing in removing Jefferson from the Appropriations committee, and I'm glad they did. Did they give his seat to someone else?

6/17/2006 6:16 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

I don't think they've actually named a replacement. I think that will come after Jefferson actually steps aside, if he does.

6/18/2006 10:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This may have been said already, but the FBI raid on Jefferson has "election-year politically-motivated move" written all over it. The Bush administration, knowing how Congressional Reps are neck-deep in exposed corruption, had this highly unusual raid carried out to thwart a hot issue favoring Dems. I mean, the FBI could very probably raid half of the entire Congress and find incriminating evidence. And I say--DO IT.
- Caracarn

6/18/2006 10:52 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Regarding political motives behind the FBI raid: Maybe. But Jefferson is a bit of a special case. The evidence against him looks worse than did the case against Cunningham, going in. I can see why they raided his office and not someone else's.

6/19/2006 9:16 AM  

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