Thursday, May 25, 2006


In Defense of Pelosi (Hell is in fact about to freeze over)

In the better late than never department, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi yesterday finally did something specific and visible to express her disapproval of scandal-plagued Rep. Bill Jefferson (D-LA).

She sent a letter to Jefferson, who is accused of accepting a bribe from a Tennessee businessman, asking him to step down as a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee until the Justice Department investigation into his conduct has been resolved.

Not exactly a bold statement. And of course, her timing could use some work -- the impact of Pelosi's mild request was diluted further because it was released at the height of the bipartisan hubbub over the FBI's potentially unconstitutional raid on Jefferson's office.

But having chided Pelosi for her previous silence, I have to give her credit where credit is due -- especially given the cheap-shot flack she is having to take from the Congressional Black Caucus. According to today's Washington Post, the CBC leadership is grumbling that Jefferson is being treated to a double standard and insinuating that Pelosi's actions are borderline racist.

There is just no evidence to support the notion that Jefferson is being discriminated against because he's black. Indeed, Pelosi asked Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), who is also under investigation for alleged ethical misconduct, to step down from his prominent committee position.

But even if there was not that precedent, there is an obvious, non-nefarious explanation for why Jefferson is being held to a different standard than similarly situated Members -- the circumstances are grossly different.

With all the scandals swirling in Washington, and Democrats making corruption a central issue in the mid-term elections this year, Capitol Hill is on the ethical equivalent of DefCon 1. Every action is under microscopic, Anderson Cooper-ic scrutiny.

In those conditions, Pelosi did the only logical thing to preserve her caucus's credibility on a defining difference between the parties. And she did it in the tamest way possible -- she could have quite legitimately called for Jefferson's resignation by now, but has refrained from doing so.

If the CBC cares about its credibility, they should stop casually making racial insinuations and start judging their colleague Mr. Jefferson on the content of his character instead of the color of his skin.

Frankly, I don't understand why the CBC is choosing to pursue this course.

Jefferson's ethical issues are about as surprising as the Saints going 6-10. He's a product of the New Orleans political tradition, complete with his own "alphabet soup" endorsement-for-cash group.

Jefferson is a crooked pol, and deserves whatever he gets.
It's a good question, Peter. A case of loyalty trumping integrity, I guess.
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