House Republicans on the Committee on Standards and Official Conduct are demanding the panel move forward with open hearings on ethics charges against two Democratic lawmakers, Charlie Rangel of New York and California’s Maxine Waters. The panel’s five Republicans sent a letter to the committee’s chair, Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, today. From the letter:
Members of the Committee have repeatedly expressed their willingness and desire to move forward with public trials of these matters and have repeatedly made themselves available to the Chairwoman for October settings. In past Congresses, Committee Members have returned to Washington during a recess in an effort to conclude pressing Ethics matters.
Representative Rangel and Representative Waters have publicly – and rightfully - demanded the setting of their respective trials prior to the November election to ensure swift and fair resolution of their matters. In our opinion, Representatives Rangel and Waters deserve the opportunity to publicly and timely address the charges against them.
The possibility that the House Majority Leader may call to adjourn a week early provides additional opportunities to schedule uninterrupted public meetings in the month of October, when Members are not conducting legislative business.
The Chairwoman has repeatedly refused to set either the Rangel or Waters trial before the November election. While we regret that the Committee has not worked together in a bipartisan fashion to ensure the transparent and fair resolution of these matters to date, we look forward to working with the Chairwoman in a bipartisan manner to accomplish this – and other important unfinished Committee business – in the coming weeks.
The move is highly unusual, especially for a committee generally considered to be the most bipartisan in Congress. The panel is, for example, equally divided 5-5 and members usually squirm at the prospect of investigating, let alone punishing, one of their own. Republicans, though, have tried to highlight the two ethics cases as examples of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s failure to live up to her pledge to “drain the swamp.” Pelosi counters by saying that under Republican control the House would never have held such hearings and the trials show the process is working. Both Rangel and Waters have bristled under the new process put in place by Pelosi and have demanded rare open hearings to prove their innocence. In separate cases, Rangel is accused of 13 breaches of House rules by a Standards subcommittee, and Waters is charged with breaching three rules.
The very last thing Dems have wanted is to hold the trials before the elections. It was bad enough when Rangel sucked all the press away from their passage of $26 billion package in aid to the states during a special summer session with his rant on the House floor. Both Rangel and Waters have called for the trials to be held asap, to the dismay of vulnerable Democrats looking to focus on jobs and the economy. Meanwhile, Jo Bonner of Alabama, the panel’s top Republican, is clearly frustrated with what he calls partisan and “secretive” maneuvering on the timing of the trials, a process that, he assets, has not involved committee Republicans. But with both sides claiming partisan actions, one has to wonder about the case being made by many disgruntled by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics — which refers cases to the Standards Committee — that the Standards Committee has the capacity to handle the ethics process without an independent arm. Clearly, they are handling the process beautifully.