Michael G. Grimm had, by most accounts, a pretty bad day. But none of the newly-indicted New York Republican’s House colleagues — Republican or Democrat — are calling for his resignation just yet.
The news seemed to dominate the Capitol as lawmakers returned from a two-week recess, but some of them weren’t even aware of the charges as they arrived for votes Monday evening.
CQ Roll Call talked with more than two-dozen lawmakers Monday evening. Responses ranged from ”I feel for him” (Dennis A. Ross, R-Fla.) to ”[T]his is America. And you’re innocent until proven guilty, and that’s true of all United States citizens.” (Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas)
Even liberal Democrats like Jerrold Nadler of New York wouldn’t say Grimm should resign. “You don’t want to set a precedent that elected officials should step down [because] you’re innocent until proven guilty,” he said. Energy and Commerce Ranking Democrat Henry A. Waxman of California called resignation a personal call: “That’s up to him.”
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had called on Grimm to relinquish his spot on Financial Services, in a press release that was sent within minutes of Grimm’s own announcement he was doing just that. A spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner called it the right decision, but leadership mostly appears to be waiting to meet with Grimm before offering any real condemnations.
A formal response from GOP leaders is expected to come at their weekly press conference Tuesday morning. CQ Roll Call asked Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., if Grimm should resign. His answer was simply, “I have not met with him yet.”
House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., told CQ Roll Call that “members should be held to the highest ethical standards,” but that she was still gathering information.
Other’s had a sharper take.
“What can you say? It speaks for itself, right? The guy’s in legal trouble, he’s innocent until the process finds otherwise but obviously if you’re running for re-election it’s a bad place to be,” said Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who is attempting to oust Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu this fall.
Cassidy, who wouldn’t say whether he felt Grimm ought to resign or decline to seek a third term in office, worked closely with the New Yorker on shepherding an overhaul of the National Flood Insurance Program through the chamber earlier this year.
Plenty of members were completely in the dark — CQ Roll Call reporters broke the news to both Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul of Texas and Judiciary Committee ranking Democrat John Conyers Jr. of Michigan.
McCaul’s face dropped when he learned that Grimm had been charged with 20 counts of misconduct.
“Those are serious allegations,” McCaul said, adding that when he served on the House Ethics Committee “there were entire cases that we looked at where a conviction under federal law would be grounds for removal.” He added, of course, the “presumed innocent until proven guilty” caveat.
Members who have faced their own brushes with ethical probes had a light touch when asked about Grimm’s troubles.
New York Democrat, Charles B. Rangel, while never indicted on charges of abusing his congressional office for personal gain, was ultimately censured on the chamber floor at the end of 2010.
Should Grimm should resign? Rangel wouldn’t go there.
“That is such a personal and political decision that only he can answer,” he said, adding that he doesn’t “give much thought to what Republicans do one way or the other.”
Alcee L. Hastings, D-Fla, had a different take, telling CQ Roll Call he is “interested to see what the leadership on the Republican side decides.”
Hastings was impeached by the House in 1988 for bribery and perjury and was later removed from office by the Senate. “Those are tough situations when people are confronted with that,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see what he decides.”
Many members declined to comment; others wanted to hold out on passing judgement until they’d seen all the facts.
The gesture of stepping down from the Financial Services Committee might go a long way, as it allows members to point out that the House is taking the matter seriously, and lets them defer final judgment until Grimm has had his day in court. And staying in Congress and seeking re-election actually helps Grimm, since he can use campaign contributions for a legal defense fund.
When CQ Roll Call told Conyers about the charges, and that Grimm said he plans to stick it out, the Michigan Democrat laughed.
“I think that might be a mistake,” he said.