WASHINGTON — Add political banishment to the list of problems confronting Rep. William Jefferson, ensnared in a bribery scandal that fellow Democrats hope to turn to their election-year advantage."Democrats are determined to hold a high ethical standard," the party's leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, said Thursday night after engineering a 99-58 vote of the rank and file that stripped Jefferson of his seat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.
"This isn't about proof in the court of law. This is about an ethical standard," Pelosi said. "I wish that the White House would do the same."
Democrats long have accused Republicans of nourishing a "culture of corruption" in Congress, and signaled their desire to make ethics a key issue in their drive to win control of the House in the November elections.
The vote came despite a final plea from Jefferson and persistent complaints from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which said the Louisianan was being sanctioned without a rule or a precedent to justify it.
For his part, Jefferson conceded to reporters he faced "serious allegations" in connection with an investigation that has netted two convictions. The congressman maintains his innocence and has not been indicted, although the FBI says it found $90,000 in bribe money several months ago stashed in a food freezer in his home.
Some hint that racism is the reason Jefferson is gone:
The chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Melvin Watt of North Carolina, said after the vote that by taking the action they did, fellow Democrats chose "political expediency" or some other unacceptable factor over precedent. "Even at the end of the meeting, we don't know what the standard has been," he said.Watt said that constituents of some lawmakers will adopt the view that race was a factor in the decision. "I think there are people who will say that's the basis," he said. Blacks are among the Democrats' most loyal voters.
One Democrat knew there was no standard and tried to adopt one:
Democrats earlier in the evening rejected a call to sidetrack the proceedings until a rule had been adopted to cover situations like Jefferson's. Rep. Steven Rothman, D-N.J., said he sought the step because without rules, the action was "extraordinarily arbitrary."
I'll tell you what the standard was: the Dems wanted Jefferson out of the way because they have been running the "Republicans' Culture of Corruption" meme for months leading into the midterm elections. With Jefferson under suspicion (as of this writing he hasn't been charged with anything) the Republicans can swat the corruption charge out of the park.
The Dems obviously think they don't need Jefferson, otherwise they would viciously defend him by smearing his accusers. So Jefferson is the sacrificial lamb on the altar of Democrat House Takeback Strategy.
Update: The full House removed him from the Ways and Means committee; get a load of the first paragraph, as the AP publishes the Dems' motives:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Louisiana Democrat facing a bribery investigation was kicked off a powerful congressional committee on Friday, ending an unwelcome distraction for Democrats as they try to keep the national focus on Republican scandals in an election year.
Did I call this or what?
The House of Representatives voted unanimously and without debate to remove Rep. William Jefferson from the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee in an anticlimactic end to a high-profile showdown between the New Orleans lawmaker and Democratic leaders who had asked him to step down voluntarily.