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Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) might be wondering what it says about his current situation when the only person publicly vouching for him is his longtime nemesis on the Financial Services Committee, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).
Republican colleagues have not exactly rushed to support that panel’s chairman, who last week said the Office of Congressional Ethics has asked him for information about a series of stock trades he made in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis.
When asked by Roll Call to provide the names of those who might vouch for Bachus’ integrity, a spokesman declined, citing the lawmaker’s “respect for the ethics process.”
“I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight. I respect the congressional ethics process. I have fully abided by the rules governing Members of Congress and look forward to the full exoneration this process will provide,” Bachus said in a statement last week.
Frank declined to comment on the investigation but said shortly after the news broke about the probe that he has found Bachus “honorable and straightforward” despite disagreeing with him on policy matters.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) have, through their offices, declined to comment, and Roll Call could not identify any House GOP Member who has publicly supported Bachus since the news of the investigation became public.
In 2009, Boehner strongly urged then-Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel to step down from his chairmanship because he was under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for financial improprieties.
The House Ethics Committee is a separate entity from the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent board established in 2008 ethics legislation that can launch investigations unilaterally. Its findings are referred to the House Ethics Committee, which makes its own decision on how to act on them.
In the short history of the OCE, Members have sometimes questioned its propriety in looking into some matters.
Several Republicans have privately noted that because the Bachus investigation is still at the level of the OCE, it does not carry with it the seriousness of a House Ethics Committee investigation.
Besides ethics issues, Bachus has faced complaints from Republicans about how he handled negotiations over the Troubled Asset Relief Program during the 2008 financial crisis. He was able to withstand a challenge from Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) for the chairmanship of the Financial Services Committee at the beginning of the 112th Congress.
GOP aides said they expect Bachus to retain the gavel through the end of this Congress, in part because term limits will force him to relinquish the top GOP slot on the panel at that time.
If Bachus were to step down, it could set off a contentious battle for the seat because there is not a clear successor.
The committee’s website lists Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas) as vice chairman. However, Hensarling is currently serving as the fourth-highest member of Republican leadership in his role as GOP Conference chairman. Members of House leadership traditionally do not chair committees.
Also, Hensarling is far down the seniority list on the committee.
In terms of GOP seniority, Bachus is followed by Rep. Peter King (N.Y.), who is already chairman of the Homeland Security Committee; Royce; Rep. Frank Lucas (Okla.), who is already chairman of the House Agriculture Committee; and Rep. Ron Paul (Texas), who is running for president and retiring from Congress.
A GOP aide said Royce has not been “in the loop” in committee business because he is not the chairman of any of its subcommittees. The source said Republicans would probably look to one of the current subcommittee chairman to replace Bachus.
Garrett, Capito and Biggert have been mentioned as possible successors to Bachus.
A second GOP aide, however, said he expected Royce would get the chairmanship if Bachus departed and noted the California Republican has been vigorously helping his colleagues raise campaign funds, which could bolster his support.