House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is refusing to take part in an event Wednesday night that will include a tribute to former Reps. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.), saying the two men “have dishonored the House” and “are unfit to to be honored for their service.”
But former Rep. Ronald Sarasin (R-Conn.), president of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, which is holding Wednesday’s tribute, said that DeLay would remain among the list of those whose names are publicly read out during the event.
Sarasin said he was willing to skip any mention of Cunningham, who is now serving time in prison for crimes committed in a wide-ranging bribery scandal. But Sarasin said he would not do the same for DeLay.
When told of Pelosi’s objections to having Cunningham’s name mentioned during the event, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) agreed, saying through a spokesman that “it would be inappropriate to have a convicted felon on the honor roll.”
Including DeLay and Cunningham, 37 lawmakers — five Senators and 32 House Members — have resigned or said they will depart Capitol Hill by the end of this year.
In a release, the society said it was honoring the lawmakers for “their hard work, service, time and the sacrifices made in upholding the office with which they were entrusted.”
Pelosi, Hastert and Senate President Pro Tem Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), along with a bipartisan group of leaders from both chambers, were slated to co-host the invitation-only event, which will be held in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall.
“Unfortunately, it has come to my attention that two of the former Members you have selected for tribute have dishonored the House,” Pelosi wrote in a July 14 letter to Sarasin. “Representative Randy ‘Duke’ Cunningham is currently serving the longest jail term that any former Member has received for crimes related to his service. Representative Tom DeLay left Congress under indictment and, by leaving, evaded a House Ethics Committee investigation into what The Washington Post referred to as a ‘criminal enterprise running out of the Majority Leader’s Office.’ I believe they are thus unfit to be honored for their service.”
Pelosi added: “I request that these Members be removed from the ‘honor roll’ for this event, or I can no longer lend my name as a co-host. This deletion must occur immediately so as not to undermine the honor for those whose service merited it.”
“We certainly understand her concerns,” Sarasin said in an interview Friday, adding that the reception will go forward whether Pelosi attends. “I certainly have no intention of canceling the event.”
Cunningham’s name will still be on the program for the gathering, Sarasin noted, since it was printed before Pelosi raised her objections.
“I did not feel that the United States Capital Historical Society should remove [DeLay and Cunningham’s] names from the list — and from history — on our own call, especially since Congress has not taken that step,” Sarasin wrote in his own letter to Pelosi on Friday. “I don’t think the Society should pretend they never existed. If one were insistent upon erasing from history those individuals who brought disgrace upon themselves and upon the institution in which they served, the busts of Burr, Agnew and Nixon would have to be removed from the Capitol and references to the service of [former Reps.] Dan Rostenkowski and Wilbur Mills would be stricken from the records.”
Sarasin said he would not include Cunningham’s name on the roll call of departing Members, but he would include DeLay. “Although [DeLay] may be under indictment, he is entitled under our system of laws, to the presumption of innocence.”
In light of her views, Sarasin added that the society “will understand” if Pelosi does not attend the event.
DeLay’s daughter and campaign manager, Dani DeLay Ferro, ridiculed Pelosi’s objections to her father being honored along with the other lawmakers this Wednesday.
“She will be missed,” said Ferro. “Nancy Pelosi can’t understand normal things.”
Ferro added that “DeLay would most likely” stop by the event.
Cunningham pleaded guilty last year to accepting more than $2.4 million in bribes over a five-year period, as well as tax evasion and fraud. He is currently serving a 100-month sentence in federal prison. Cunningham pleaded guilty to the charges on Nov. 28 and resigned from the House the same day.
DeLay left the House on June 9 after more than 20 years in Congress. DeLay, weakened politically by his ties to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and several ex-aides who have pleaded guilty in the ongoing corruption probe of the one-time K Street heavyweight, faced a difficult re-election battle.
DeLay has also been indicted in Texas on state money-laundering charges stemming from his role in the Lone Star State’s 2003 redistricting battle. DeLay has not been charged with any wrongdoing in the federal corruption investigation.