John Ensign, beach read (image: Mike Licht)

Long, long ago and far, far away there were Ethics Committees in both houses of our legislative branch, empowered to keep members from violating basic canons of decency and disgracing the body called Congress.

 

In case that sentence sounds altogether outdated and quaint, it does seem that when the Ethics Committee in the House of Representatives was dismembered (pun intended), it turned loose standards by which the so-called representatives of the country were able to dishonor their offices and the country.  The Ethics Committee did its work, and caused the end of the career of Tom DeLay after his misadventures with Jack Abramoff’s lobbying payoffs.  That was its own end, as well.

When the Committee did admonish Tom DeLay for a third time, Hastert fired three Republicans from the panel, including chairman Joel Hefley. The new chairman, Doc Hastings, acted to rein in the panel, leading to a Democratic boycott and preventing a quorum. The stalemate lasted three months until Hastings backed down, but the committee was left broken and unable to take action in the DeLay case, the full Jack Abramoff Indian lobbying scandal, or other cases such as that of Democrat Jim McDermott.[6][7][8]

After that, it was denatured and never functioned properly to expel offending members.  During the Mark Foley news outbreak, when that congressman was disclosed to the public to have been making advances toward young male pages, part of the scandal became that Foley’s misconduct had been known and ignored.  That made the Ethics Committee an object of embarrassment.

As Representative Pelosi wrote to the Ethics Committee when the rights was still in charge, October 1, 2006;

On Friday, I offered and the House unanimously passed a resolution directing the Ethics Committee to begin an immediate investigation and provide the House with a preliminary report in 10 days concerning allegations about Congressman Mark Foley’s highly inappropriate and explicit communications with a former underage Page. The resolution called for an investigation of “when the Republican leadership was notified, and what corrective action was taken once officials learned of any improper activity.”

Since that resolution unanimously passed, Republican Leaders have admitted to knowing about Mr. Foley’s outrageous behavior for six months to a year, and they chose to cover it up rather than to protect these children.

As the author of the resolution that the House unanimously passed, I am writing to insist that the Ethics Committee act as directed and immediately form the investigative Subcommittee and begin work on the preliminary report in 10 days. Central to the investigation is immediately questioning, under oath, the House Republican Leadership.


It was that stasis that former Speaker Pelosi tried to end, returning it to activity.  In a past era of impartial regard for standards of conduct, that activity included a rebuke of Congressman Rangel and investigations that included those of Rep.  Waters along with at one time a total of thirty members of both parties.

When the Democrats and Speaker Pelosi were voted out, the Ethics Committee again ceased to function.  Lacking lead counsel since the resignation of the former holders of investigative office – during the pummeling of Rep. Maxine Waters that so offended the minorities the G.O.P. needs badly – just recently a new counsel has been named which could mean a return to life for the committee.  That committee has been missing in action during the 112th Congress.

Such a chequered past shows just how much the right has dreaded any sort of ethics being imposed on its members.   With the Family getting a religious tax break for its lurid C Street behavior, it’s no wonder they can’t afford to undergo inspection.   Without an active ethics panel, behavior like Ensign’s and DeLay’s enable the criminality that has become part and parcel of the right.

It’s almost sad, but perhaps return to its functions will allow the Ethics Committee of the House to revitalize the G.O.P. by stripping out those colorful philanderers who have become its standard bearers.   Yes, pun intended again.  The return to ethical conduct standards by the party of No might be an improvement to the country, if it didn’t return it to the strength it has so misused.

The action by the Senate Ethics Committee that has led to unveiling Senator Ensign’s illegal and unethical behavior, and that led to his resignation, seems to have brought too much light on the subject of the House’s missing Ethics Committee.