House GOP Rule Change Reversed

Looks like Professor Bainbridge is getting his wish: Any member of the U.S. House GOP leadership who is indicted by a grand jury once again automatically will lose his or her post, even if members of the Caucus believe the charges are hogwash.

Here’s part of how Roll Call is covering the story tonight:

Retreating in the face of a political furor and trepidation within their ranks, House GOP leaders surprisingly reversed themselves Monday night and reinstituted a party rule that requires any member of the leadership who is indicted to step down from his or her post. The rule change was originally made in late 2004 to protect Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who is under investigation for his role in influencing 2002 state legislative races in Texas…

After weeks of political attacks from Democrats and government watchdog groups, DeLay himself offered the proposal to restore GOP Conference rules on indicted leaders during a meeting of all House Republicans on Monday night. It was accepted unanimously.

“[DeLay] felt that the arguments made this fall were still legitimate, but that the best thing for us was to restore the old rule and deny Democrats their lone issue,” said Jonathan Grella, DeLay’s spokesman.

Another top House GOP aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the reasons for the abrupt about-face were obvious. “The unsophisticated, transparent game the Democrats want to play, we will not partake in it,” said the GOP aide. Democrats from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) down had been bashing Republicans on the indictment rule change since it was adopted Nov. 17.

Democrats immediately claimed a political victory Monday night.

“Even for the Republicans, it was too hot for them to handle,” said Brendan Daly, Pelosi’s spokesman…

Had it been up to me, I would have required an automatic, confidential vote of confidence by the entire caucus anytime a member of the leadership is indicted, with the expection that this nearly always would result in a leader losing his or her post. (I made some of my arguments about this in November in posts here and here.) I also, as anyone who read this recent post can tell, take a dim view of other branches of government taking over authority that rightly belongs to legislatures. I’m uncomfortable with the notion that a grand jury should have the de factoauthority to determine who is in our Congressional leadership.

But this is Washington, and politics is politics, and the rule change looked bad. So it goes.

Addendum: Received this amusing e-mail regarding the House GOP’s November decision to adopt the ethics/indictment rule change, and its January decision to reverse itself:

Whoa, wait a minute…. First they voted for it, then they voted against it?


Debbie Swift

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