Ehlers’ office already had handed out copies of the amendment to reporters when other GOP members of the House Administration Committee, envisioning yet another public relations debacle, convinced the chairman to scrap the amendment during a closed-door meeting before the markup.
Ironically, it was Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) — the man known as “Representative #1” in court documents and as “Dead Man Walking” to aficionados of the Jack Abramoff scandal — who argued most passionately against Ehlers’ amendment.
Ney — who under scrutiny in the Abramoff scandal was forced out as the panel’s chairman and replaced by Ehlers — had prepared a statement to read at the markup. In it, he acknowledged the obvious: “My critics would likely say that there would be no Member more than myself who would want to seek protection from such a stiff financial penalty.”
His statement included an unequivocal defense of himself. “I never engaged in any criminal or unethical actions, and certainly never violated any of the laws that as outlined in this bill would cause a Member to lose his Congressional pension.” He went further to say that any Member of Congress convicted of “such egregious criminal actions as bribery and extortion” didn’t deserve the “privilege of continuing to live on the American taxpayer’s dime.”
Ney and others convinced Ehlers that newspaper headlines would surely blare: “Ehlers Votes to Weaken Lobby Reform Bill.” Ehlers countered that Democrats did not even have a pension penalty in their bill — so, therefore, Republicans would still look stronger revoking pension benefits during prison time, right?
Well no, Vern, they explained. Other House committees had already approved a full revocation of pension benefits for convicted Members, so this committee would look, well, not so good, if it weakened the penalty.
In fact, House Administration members John Mica (R-Fla.) and Candice Miller (R-Mich.) had already voted in another committee to revoke pensions for Members convicted on public corruption charges. They could hardly change their vote in this committee.
As one source familiar with the closed-door meeting put it, “You don’t win political arguments simply by saying you’re not as bad as the other guy, and just because the Democrats did not address this issue in this bill did not mean Republicans wouldn’t have been ridiculed had this amendment been adopted and the bill weakened.”
John Brandt, a spokesman for Ehlers, declined to say how persuasive Ney was in walking Ehlers back from the edge of the cliff. He said only, “There was a discussion among the Members and they all agreed that they wouldn’t move the amendment forward.”
Ney’s office declined to comment.
Close But No Cigar. No, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) was not dining with “The Matrix” actor Laurence Fishburne at Oya last week, as an HOH informant surmised. Nope, the only connection he has to Fishburne is watching him on the silver screen, according to Moran spokesman Austin Durrer.
“Congressman Moran was eating dinner with his wife and son and didn’t realize Laurence Fishburne was in the restaurant. A fan of ‘The Matrix,’ the Congressman would have liked to ask Mr. Fishburne what Morpheus would have thought of the Republican’s matrix of corruption, cronyism and incompetence.”
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Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.