House: Dems Seize on Abramoff Scandal
Less than 24 hours after disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff was sentenced to 70 months in prison for fraud committed in connection with the purchase of a casino cruise line in Florida, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) offered a privileged resolution today calling for an immediate investigation into Abramoff's ties to members of Congress and staffers.
In seeking support for the resolution, Pelosi cites Republicans' decision to move Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) out as chairman of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (as the Ethics Committee is formally known), the rule changes (later rescinded) on procedures governing the committee's handling of complaints and the revelations concerning Abramoff's relationships with several members of Congress.
The resolution was set aside by a vote of 216-193 -- largely along party lines (the Republican majority voted to table Pelosi's proposal). Six Republicans voted with the Democrats: Reps. Jim Gerlach (Pa.), Todd Platts (Pa.), Mark Green (Wisc.), Mark Souder (Ind.), Jim Leach (Iowa) and Chris Shays (Conn.). Gerlach and Shays face tough reelection fights this year, while Green is running for governor in Wisconsin.
Two Republicans -- Reps. Ron Paul (Texas) and Walter Jones (N.C.) -- voted as "present." All five Democratic members of the Ethics Committee also voted "present" (presumably to preserve them from accusations of bias as they continue to urge an investigation into ethics breaches of House members linked to Abramoff).
Pelosi has offered similar privileged resolutions several other times during the 109th Congress on topics ranging from the Medicare prescription drug bill to the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq.
Asked about the strategy, Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said that "Democrats understand the price that Americans are playing for the price of corruption [while] Republicans again and again vote along party lines to protect their own and not investigate corruption."
While the practical effect of Pelosi's resolution is nearly nil, its carries considerable symbolic weight -- signaling that Democrats are planning to focus heavily on the "culture of corruption" message in the run-up to the 2006 midterms.
Individual Republicans implicated in the Abramoff scandal (Ohio Rep. Bob Ney and Montana Sen. Conrad Burns being the most prominent) are sure to have to answer questions about their ties to the lobbyist, but it remains to be seen whether the specter of Abramoff can defeat Republicans who accepted money either directly from Abramoff or from the clients he lobbied.
Republicans insist that Abramoff is nothing more than a single bad apple and that the scandal will not lead to any wide-scale political problems for candidates not directly tied to him.
"Ms. Pelosi has taken hypocrisy to a new level," said National Republican Congressional Committee communications director Carl Forti. "She would 'not make a big deal' out of a Democrat Member attacking a police office, she refuses to condemn Rep. Jefferson amid his bribery scandal, and she has remained silent on his staff's charges that Mr. Conyers forced them to work on his wife's campaign."
The next three months will be crucial when considering how much of an impact Abramoff will have on the midterm election. Although he was sentenced in Florida yesterday, he will not begin serving the sentence for at least 90 days so that he can continue to aid the federal investigation centered on his lobbying for various Native American tribes. If Abramoff's help leads to indictments of several Republican lawmakers, this issue could be white-hot by Election Day.
Click to the next page to read the text of Pelosi's resolution:
Privileged Resolution Requiring Ethics Investigation of Members of Congress Bribed by Republican Lobbyist Jack Abramoff
WHEREAS, it has been two years since credible reports of misconduct by Mr. Jack Abramoff and Members of Congress began appearing regularly in the public record, including reports closely linking Republican Members of Congress with the documented misconduct of Mr. Abramoff;
WHEREAS, in the first session of the 109th Congress, for the first time in the history of the House of Representatives, the rules of procedure of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct were changed on a partisan basis, the Chairman of the Committee and two of his Republican Colleagues were dismissed from the Committee, the newly appointed Chairman of the Committee improperly and unilaterally fired non-partisan staff, and the Chairman attempted to appoint supervisory staff without a vote of the Committee in direct contravention of the intent of the bi-partisan procedures adopted in 1997;
WHEREAS, because of these actions, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct conducted no investigative activities in the first session of the 109th Congress and has not yet conducted such activities;
WHEREAS, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and the Senate Committee on Finance have both undertaken investigations of Mr. Jack Abramoff's activities, yet no House Committee has begun any such investigation;
WHEREAS, on March 29th, 2006, Mr. Jack Abramoff was sentenced to five years and ten months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud;
WHEREAS, a Justice Department press release reported that Mr. Jack Abramoff "corruptly provid[ed] things of value to public officials ... including, but not limited to, a lavish trip to Scotland to play golf on world-famous courses, tickets to sporting events and other entertainment, regular meals at Abramoff's upscale restaurant, and campaign contributions for [a] Representative, his political action committee, his campaign committee, and other political committees on behalf of [that] Representative." (Department of Justice press release, January 3, 2006);
WHEREAS, Mr. Jack Abramoff's plea agreement states that he and his colleagues "provided things of value to public officials in exchange for a series of official acts and influence...including agreements to support and pass legislation (and) agreements to place statements in the Congressional Record." (Abramoff Plea Agreement);
WHEREAS, on November 5, 2005, in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, a former Congressional staff member and business partner of Mr. Jack Abramoff pled guilty to conspiracy to violate federal laws and admitted that, beginning in January, 2000, he offered and provided things of value to public officials, including Members of Congress and staff, in exchange for a series of official acts;
RESOLVED, That the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct shall immediately initiate an investigation of the misconduct by Members of Congress and their staff implicated in the scandals associated with Mr. Jack Abramoff's criminal activity.
(Source: Office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi)
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