Democrats moved swiftly Tuesday to pre-empt GOP efforts to take the upper hand in the fallout stemming from Monday’s wide-ranging criminal indictment of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.).
While House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) had announced Monday that he would offer a privileged resolution to force the ethics committee to investigate the matter and to kick Jefferson off his current and pending committee assignments, those matters were largely resolved before the House met for votes Tuesday evening.
Jefferson stepped down from his seat on the Small Business panel Tuesday, and the ethics committee announced it would launch a new probe of the Louisiana lawmaker.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also offered a competing resolution requiring an ethics committee investigation within 30 days of any Member being indicted. At press time, both resolutions were expected to pass overwhelmingly.
“I agree with the Minority Leader that the allegations that have been made are extraordinarily serious, and if they are proven true they should lead to the expulsion of the Member in question,” Hoyer said. “They, of course, have not been proven true, they are allegations.”
Not all Members supported the efforts. An emotional Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) — a former ethics committee member who once defended now-jailed Rep. James Traficant (Ohio) on the House floor — decried both efforts as “dumbing down the House.” LaTourette said by approving the resolutions, it would make all Members vulnerable to “rogue prosecutors” who could use indictments as political tools. “I think this is a sad day for this House,” he said. “I intend to vote against both of these resolutions.”
By Tuesday evening, Jefferson already had removed himself from his remaining seat on the Small Business Committee in a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “In doing so, I, of course, express no admission of guilt or culpability in that or any other matter that may be pending in any court or before the House of Representatives,” Jefferson wrote. “I have supported every ethics and lobbying reform measure that you and our Democratic Majority have authored, and I make this request for leave to support the letter and the spirit of your leadership in this area.”
Democratic leaders already had made it clear they would convene a meeting of the Steering and Policy Committee to recommend his removal had he not done so. However, Jefferson’s decision was in stark contrast to his public dispute with Pelosi in 2005 when she led the successful effort to force him off of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Additionally, House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct Chairwoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) announced Tuesday afternoon that the panel would create an investigative subcommittee on the Jefferson matter. She did not name which lawmakers would conduct the inquiry.
Jones issued a statement without ethics ranking member Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), but she said the two lawmakers had agreed on the matter. Jones accused Republicans of politicizing the Jefferson case.
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.