Feb. 13, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Majority Eyes Earmark Ban

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Rep. Sander Levin won the Ways and Means gavel after embattled Rep. Charlie Rangel stepped aside.

Just hours later, leaders were facing a new controversy after reports surfaced that freshman Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) had been accused of sexually harassing a male staffer — allegations that the ethics committee is probing. Massa announced that day he would not seek re-election, pointing to a recent cancer diagnosis. By Friday afternoon, however, he released a statement announcing his resignation and taking responsibility for ethics problems he described as “mine and mine alone.”

While Republicans were largely quiet on the Massa mess, they lashed Democrats for standing by Rangel for months while he faced multiple ethics allegations. Boehner, calling Rangel’s decision to step aside “appropriate,” took Pelosi and other leaders to task for having defended him for so long — “especially after promising to preside over the most honest, open and ethical Congress in history.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee, meanwhile, hammered Democrats for hanging on to Rangel’s campaign contributions and kept score as Members rushed to return them. As of Friday morning, the committee noted that $418,000 in his largess had either been returned or given to charity.

Taking stock even as the controversies raged, top Democrats last week said they believe they are in a strong position to weather the political fallout of their recent pileup of ethics troubles. They pointed to the fact that the midterm elections are eight months away, that Republicans are still battling plenty of problems of their own, and that their failings, while damaging, also proved that the moribund ethics process they inherited from the GOP is now fully functional and weeding out bad actors.

“We’ve got to introduce the pot to the kettle here if they’re talking about ethics,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), vice chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, “because they had an ethics system that was totally nonfunctional. Instead of addressing their Members’ ethics concerns, they swept them under the rug, stalled and fostered the culture of corruption. We made sure we created a system where we could shine a light on it and when there is a problem, that a member gets called out on it and is held accountable.”

Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), also a DCCC vice chairman and the man charged with trying to rally support for Rangel last week, warned Republicans against trying to make too much of Democratic missteps lest it backfire. “I don’t think they should get too high on the hog on human frailties here,” he said. “They have their own human frailties they need to be mindful of, as well.”

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