Friday, June 16, 2006

Light Blogging this Weekend...

Family considerations.

I'll leave you with this Roll Call piece on the expulsion of Bill Jefferson from the Ways and Means Committee. The vote among Democrats was closer than expected, and this must still be ratified by the full House. It will be interesting to see if Republicans try to make this more uncomfortable for Democrats, but I think that's unlikely.

GREAT quote from Pelosi, by the way. And it's not often I say that:

House Democrats Approve Jefferson’s Expulsion From Ways and Means
Thursday, June 15; 10:36 pm
By Steve Kornacki,
Roll Call Staff

In a Caucus meeting that dragged on for well over three hours, House Democrats on Thursday night endorsed Rep. William Jefferson’s (La.) expulsion from the Ways and Means Committee in a vote that was somewhat closer than expected.

By a 99-58 margin, the Democrats sided with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), whose persistent calls for Jefferson’s voluntary resignation have been rebuffed by the Louisianan, who is being investigated by federal prosecutors over bribery allegations. Jefferson indicated that he will press forward and not quit, even as his options wither.

Barring a change of heart on his part, Jefferson’s removal will now be taken to the House floor by Caucus Chairman James Clyburn (S.C.). Clyburn did not say when he would introduce the resolution, other than to say he probably wouldn’t do so Thursday night

After the meeting, Rep. Mel Watt (N.C.), the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, wouldn’t say whether he or any other CBC member would object on the House floor to the change in Jefferson’s committee status, which by tradition would be introduced under a unanimous consent agreement. An objection would force a floor debate and a recorded vote.

Going into Wednesday’s meeting, even Jefferson’s supporters conceded that his fate seemed settled, with Pelosi’s muscle presumed to be enough to corral a sizable pro-expulsion majority. Last week, the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, a group packed with the Leader’s loyalists, had overwhelmingly voted to recommend Jefferson’s removal, and in the run-up to Thursday’s Caucus session, only a handful of voices from the 43-member CBC publicly rallied to their colleague’s defense.

But some Democrats were apparently swayed by the argument that Pelosi was acting without precedent – specifically, that no rank-and-file committee member had ever been stripped of his or her seat without charges being brought or being convicted of a crime. In the end, nearly 60 members of the Democratic Caucus defied their Leader in the secret balloting.

...“I told all of my colleagues, ‘Anybody with $90,000 in the freezer -- you have a problem with this Caucus,’” Pelosi said.

The meeting, held on the same day as a lengthy House debate on an Iraq war resolution, was supposed to last little more than an hour, with each side being given 20 minutes of floor time and Jefferson himself being permitted to make his case.

But shortly after Jefferson spoke to his colleagues – a 10-minute address that, he told reporters, resulted in a standing ovation – Rep. Steve Rothman (N.J.) surprised the Caucus by offering a motion to table the expulsion resolution until the Caucus drew up rules for removing rank-and-file members from their committee assignments.

“In the absence of any rule, I felt that this was extremely arbitrary and inviting potential abuse,” said Rothman, a former Bergen County (N.J.) Surrogate Court judge. “The standard being, if things looks bad, remove him or her from the committee.”

That sparked two floor debates: one over Rothman’s motion itself, and one over whether the vote on the motion should be conducted by secret ballot. Ultimately, the Caucus opted for paper ballots, which then had to be drawn up, resulting in another delay.

“They really [screwed] this up,” one disgusted Member said as he left the Caucus room during a break in the proceedings.

Finally, Rothman’s motion to table was defeated, 91-61, with more than 50 Members not voting – they were either on the House floor participating in the Iraq debate or attending the White House picnic, Democratic leaders later speculated.

With Rothman’s motion defeated, debate over the original resolution resumed, finally wrapping up shortly before 8 p.m.

With Pelosi standing just behind him and to his right, Clyburn, a CBC member who has steadfastly refused to reveal his opinion of the Jefferson matter, announced the decision. He seemed to suggest that election year politics – Democrats have pinned their hopes of reclaiming the House in part on selling the public on the concept of a Republican-sponsored “culture of corruption” – played a hand in Pelosi’s insistence.

“Mr. Jefferson has the right, and I think the responsibility, to defend himself in these legal proceedings,” Clyburn said. “Mrs. Pelosi has a right, and I think a responsibility, to make a political decision in the best interest of this Caucus.”

That provoked groans and vocal expressions of disbelief from some CBC members who stood off to the side listening.

“I probably agree with [Clyburn] that the decision, in the absence of a rule – that one explanation is political expediency,” Watt said when it was his turn at the microphone a few minutes later. “But I don’t think that’s the way we ought to proceed.”

Watt also warned of electoral repercussions for the Democrats this fall, arguing that grass-roots black voters might view the move as racially motivated, even if Watt and others say they don’t believe it is.

“A number of them will import that there is a different standard in our Caucus that is based on race,” Watt said.

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