Partisan Fallout Over House Page Misconduct
Update: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) this evening agreed to have a nonpartisan investigation by the chamber's inspector general into the entire page system after at least four teens in the program were recently expelled.
"We expect the inspector general to gather the facts and recommend the appropriate and necessary corrective actions to be taken by the House," the leaders wrote in a draft letter. "We will also work together to select a highly regarded, independent entity to conduct a thorough review of the Page Program's organization and operation, and make recommendations concerning its long-term future."
The political fallout over the expulsions of four (possibly more) teenagers from the House page program is getting nastier. And now it's unclear whether the tradition of having teens in matching navy suits running errands for the powerful on Capitol Hill will even continue.
One of two House members who resigned from the House Page Board in protest says a fifth page was expelled for misconduct, according to portions of a letter obtained by the Sleuth. The letter, by Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.), charges that the director of the House page program brought in "the operator of an abortion clinic" to speak to the young pages.
"When I spoke to one irate parent," Brown-Waite writes, "they made the comment that, 'I didn't send my kid to Washington, D.C., to become knowledgeable about abortion techniques'....I understand that this speaker was brought in without approval of the Page Board, but no disciplinary action has been taken."
Brown-Waite apparently has been fielding calls from angry parents in the wake of revelations that two teens were expelled for shoplifting and two others for performing an oral sex show for other pages. A fifth student, according to Brown-Waite, was expelled for as yet unknown reasons.
"Since my resignation, I have learned about another dismissal from parents of children in the program," Brown-Waite writes in a letter she's sending today to the House clerk, who oversees the page program and reports to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).
Brown-Waite goes on to further criticize the House clerk, Lorraine Miller, for her overall handling of the page program and her perceived lack of communication with Page Board members.
But Democratic sources say Brown-Waite's charge is overblown -- that the invited speaker was someome with a "sociology degree" who spoke on the history of reproductive rights legislation in the United States.
In response to the resignations of Brown-Waite and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) last week, Pelosi announced she would be launching a full-scale review of the pages' dismissals. Brown-Waite welcomes the review but says it would be "inappropriate" for the Page Board, which includes the clerk, to conduct that investigation.
The congresswoman's letter is the latest salvo in a back-and-forth with Miller. Brown-Waite and Capito charged the clerk failed to properly notify GOP board members of the pages' misconduct and expulsions. Miller defended the program and her actions.
The brouhaha echoes the partisan clash and charges of a political cover-up that surrounded the 2006 Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) page scandal when GOP aides suppressed information about Foley's sexually charged electronic messages to teens. House Democratic leadership aides say Republicans are clearly playing politics and retaliating since they were stung so badly - as in, lost their majority - by the Foley controversy.
"We are trying to work with the Republicans on this to handle this important issue responsibly," one House Democratic leadership aide tells the Sleuth. "Unfortunately, they seem to prefer trying to make it a political issue."
Brown-Waite and Capito met privately Tuesday evening with House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), who is now hinting that he may not appoint two new Republican members to the page board, leaving the program's fate in limbo. The semester for the current crop of roughly 70 pages ends Friday when the House is scheduled to leave for Christmas recess.
"It would be irresponsible for the Republican Leader to reinstate members to a board that is quite obviously broken, and without a plan that gives members and parents full confidence that these incidents aren't going to continue unabated," says Boehner spokesman Brian Kennedy says.
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