The House ethics committee, the existence of which you might have understandably forgotten, is back in business, investigating the handling of a now former member’s unhealthy interest in young male congressional pages.
The ex-congressman, former Florida Republican Rep. Mark Foley, is beyond the committee’s jurisdiction, having resigned just over two weeks ago.
Instead, a committee panel will investigate the handling by House leaders and staff of allegations of Foley’s misconduct made over several years and why nothing was done other than a private warning until his steamy e-mails to the teenagers became public.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert had wanted the panel to identify the source of incriminating e-mails on grounds that the disclosure might have been a Democratic attempt to embarrass the Republicans on the eve of the elections, but pressure on the committee to go in that direction has eased now that the leak seems to have originated on his own side of the aisle.
Nor should the committee let itself be sidetracked. It is important to Congress’ own integrity and the respect of the public that the panel does an efficient, thorough and credible investigation.
As part of the arrogance that is such a large factor in the House Republicans’ current predicament, the leadership early in 2005 set out to emasculate the committee for having the temerity to admonish House GOP leader Tom DeLay for inappropriate official conduct three times in the previous year.
The leadership purged the committee’s Republican chairman and two other GOP members, replacing them with more reliable allies of Hastert and DeLay. The rules were changed to make it easier to dismiss complaints and hamstring the Democratic members.
The leadership suffered a humiliating reversal when its own backbenchers rebelled over a rules change that would have allowed DeLay, facing indictment back in Texas, to retain his leadership post.
But the committee was paralyzed and effectively has remained so until the Foley scandal. The ethics committee was effectively dormant during a time when DeLay resigned under a cloud, the ranking Democrat on the panel resigned after being accused of funneling federal grants to his business partners, one Republican went to jail for official corruption, another is on his way for the same offense and Foley resigned in disgrace.
Oh yes, the ethics committee is back in business and none too soon.
(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com.)