Jefferson Likely to Keep Panel Seat

Louisianan Expected to Stay on Small Business Despite FBI Probe

Posted April 25, 2007 at 6:24pm

House Democratic leaders are not expected to pressure embattled Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) to forfeit his lone remaining committee assignment, even as two Republican lawmakers who similarly face intense FBI scrutiny have relinquished their posts in recent days.

Democratic sources indicated that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is unlikely to ask the Louisiana lawmaker, who is under federal investigation, to give up his seat on the Small Business Committee.

“Congressman Jefferson was removed from the powerful Ways and Means Committee and that action speaks for itself,” said spokesman Nadeam Elshami.

During the 109th Congress, the Democratic Caucus stripped Jefferson of his seat on the exclusive Ways and Means Committee, a decision later ratified by the House.

The Democratic Steering and Policy Committee subsequently elected not to return Jefferson to that panel earlier this year, although the Louisiana lawmaker did receive an assignment to the Small Business Committee.

One senior Democratic aide, who asked not to be named, noted that it would be difficult to remove Jefferson from that remaining post, citing not only his decisive re-election victory in a December runoff, but the fact that much of the 2nd district was badly damaged in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina.

“After he was removed from his [Ways and Means] Committee he was re-elected by his district, which was hit hard by the hurricanes and it’s important they have a Member who can act on their behalf,” the aide said.

Nonetheless, Democrat leaders have held back on bringing a measure to the floor to grant Jefferson an additional seat on the Homeland Security Committee, despite a unanimous Caucus vote to approve that assignment earlier this year.

Republicans have vowed to object to a unanimous consent agreement, the normal procedure for assignments, and instead force a potentially politically uncomfortable roll call vote on the issue.

The Louisiana lawmaker has not been indicted in the investigation, but the FBI has asserted it videotaped Jefferson allegedly accepting $100,000 in marked bills from an informant, and a related raid of his home reportedly found $90,000 in cash in his freezer.

The FBI also raided Jefferson’s Congressional office in May 2006, an action that drew criticism of the agency from both Republican and Democratic leaders.

In addition, a former Jefferson aide and a Kentucky businessman have both pleaded guilty in connection with the case, receiving lengthy prison terms.

In recent days Republican Reps. Rick Renzi (Ariz.) and John Doolittle (Calif.) both have forfeited their respective committee assignments, following an April 19 raid at an Arizona insurance office with ties to Renzi’s family and a separate April 13 raid on Doolittle’s Virginia home.

Despite enforcing stricter rules for their own Members that call for suspensions if there is a “clear likelihood of serious transgressions,” outlined in a November letter from House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), GOP leaders are not expected to call for Jefferson to follow suit.

“Mr. Jefferson hasn’t sought my counsel on that,” House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said at a Wednesday press conference.

One Republican leadership aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, suggested that the decision is intended to highlight Jefferson’s continued service in an attempt to mar the Democratic majority.

“Our leadership is taking a very active and decisive approach to getting the party’s house in order, and the more we do that the more glaring it will be that Democrats are not,” the aide asserted.

Although other Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Jerry Lewis (Calif.), also are under investigation by federal authorities, those Members have not been asked to step aside, and the aide noted that probes into Renzi and Doolittle are considered more serious in light of the recent raids.

But House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) asserted in a lecture Wednesday at the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, that it is Republicans who must do more to address questions about ethics in Congress.

“We have an institutional problem that requires an institutional solution,” Emanuel said, noting that lobbying reform legislation is expected to reach the House floor before the Memorial Day recess.