Rep. Jeff Flake’s tradition-bending crusade against his colleagues’ back-home projects has many of them scratching their heads and occasionally hurling insults at him.
But what the thick-skinned Arizona Republican did Tuesday night is unheard of: He tried to kill a project sponsored by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.
Hastert is the most powerful member of Congress, second in the line of succession to the presidency, and a revered figure among House Republicans.
The project in question was a $2.5 million grant to an Illinois nonprofit organization to help hi-tech companies develop new technologies for the Navy.
The president of the group, the Illinois Technology Development Alliance, is a former Hastert aide, Tom Thornton. He doesn’t donate to political campaigns, and the IDTA doesn’t have a Washington lobbyist _ two key components of recent influence-peddling investigations.
Flake didn’t know about the Hastert link when initially targeting the project. He subsequently found out _ and went ahead anyway.
“I don’t think that is appropriate for a defense bill,” he said. “We ought to be spending money … on helmets, on body armor, on other things, rather than subsidizing the technology center in a particular state.”
Hastert had better uses of his time than to stroll to the floor to issue a rebuttal. Instead, Illinois GOP ally Ray LaHood came to the floor to inquire incredulously, “Do you know who earmarked this money?”
Acknowledging it was Hastert, Flake stammered: “Had I agreed to pull back now, I would be looked to favoring one particularly powerful member of my party.”
Flake, however, let the matter pass without forcing a roll call vote.