Tuesday, June 06, 2006

House Dems Preparing to Dump Jefferson?

According to Roll Call (subscription required), the House Democrat Steering and Policy Committee - which determines Committee assignments for House Democrats - will meet as early as today to decide whether to strip Congressman Bill Jefferson of his assignment to the Ways and Means Committee:

Democrats to Discuss Jefferson
June 6, 2006
By Steve Kornacki,
Roll Call Staff

Rep. William Jefferson’s (La.) tenuous standing as a member of the Ways and Means Committee will be discussed when the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee convenes a members-only session, tentatively set for late Tuesday afternoon.
The committee does not hold regularly scheduled meetings, but on Monday, members were told to be present Tuesday for what was billed as an important event: a discussion of the party’s message and agenda.

But the timing — it was only a few session days ago that Jefferson ignored a demand from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that he leave Ways and Means immediately — promptly ignited specualtion that Pelosi is planning to ask the Steering and Policy Committee to recommend to the full Democratic Caucus that Jefferson be stripped of his assignment on the exclusive panel.

“If that’s what they’re going to do, they probably won’t say it until everyone’s there,” a Democratic aide noted.

A senior Democratic aide, however, said that Pelosi is expected to broach the Jefferson subject but said that she is likely to tread carefully, perhaps only sampling opinion instead of calling for specific actions.

...Other aides also expressed doubt that Pelosi would ask for an actual vote on Jefferson’s status at the meeting, but in showing a desire to press ahead on the matter, she is testing, at least potentially, her relationship with the Congressional Black Caucus.

...There are two avenues available to Pelosi to pry Jefferson from the committee. She could simply invoke her status as Minority Leader and bring a privileged resolution to the House floor, a death knell for Jefferson unless Republicans for some reason rallied to his defense. But such a move could stir broad resentment among House Democrats, who might interpret it as a precedent for future heavy-handedness.

Pelosi’s other option involves building consensus within the Democratic Caucus, first by winning a recommendation from the 50-member Steering and Policy Committee and then by making her case to the full Caucus.

As the Minority Leader, Pelosi has packed Steering and Policy with some of her closest allies, including Reps. George Miller (Calif.) and Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), who serve as the body’s co-chairs. The primary function of Steering and Policy is to make recommendations on committee appointments — recommendations that typically, and not coincidentally, jibe with Pelosi’s own preferences.

...If Steering and Policy were to endorse Jefferson’s removal, the matter would be taken up by the full Caucus, which will next hold a weekly meeting on Wednesday morning. Those close to Pelosi say she did her homework before calling for Jefferson’s head and have expressed confidence she would prevail in a vote of all 203 Democrats — even if the CBC’s opposition ensures the maneuver wouldn’t be entirely tidy.

...The latest hint that Jefferson’s days on Ways and Means might be drawing to a close is only fueling speculation about his successor.

The most popular theory has Pelosi tapping Rep. Artur Davis (Ala.) to fill a slot that many believe is unofficially earmarked for a CBC member from a Southern state. Given the current tension, Pelosi might find particular urgency in trying to assuage the CBC with a Jefferson replacement pick.

But there also are suggestions that some CBC veterans, who recall that Davis ousted Earl Hilliard, a longtime CBC member, in 2002, might prefer that the spot go to someone else — Elijah Cummings (Md.), for instance, who already has expressed a desire to replace Rep. Benjamin Cardin on Ways and Means when his fellow Marylander leaves the House at the end of the year.

If the Democratic Caucus does strip Jefferson of this Committee assignment, it will raise the stakes for other Democratic members with ethics troubles, who serve on important committees (we're looking at you, Alan Mollohan). Should Mollohan (or another Member in a similar situation) look like he or she will be indicted, there will be pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus to punish that Member as well.

And of course, the media will not forget the actions of the Democratic caucus, and press House Republicans to treat one of their own in the same way. Eventually, this could cause trouble for Jerry Lewis, for example.

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