Republicans to Reverse Ethics Rules Changes: Hastert
Saying that an ethics impasse needed to be resolved to provide a chance for Representative Tom DeLay to clear his name, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert said this morning that Republicans were ready to relent on rules changes that have left the ethics committee unable to do any work. “I am willing to step back,” Mr. Hastert told reporters after a closed-door meeting with House Republicans. “I think we need to move forward with the ethics process.”
Mr. Hastert, who defended the rules changes forced through earlier this year by Republicans as an attempt to protect the rights of lawmakers, did not specify what he would do and said he would outline his plan later today in a letter to Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader. But he and others indicated that his intention was to reverse three rules opposed by Democrats, an action that would require a vote of the full House. Without naming Mr. DeLay specifically, the speaker alluded to the furor surrounding the majority leader over overseas travels, fund-raising and contacts with lobbyists. “There is a member, especially on our side, who needs to have the process move forward so he can clear his name,” the speaker said. “Right now he can’t clear his name.” Mr. DeLay has offered to meet with leaders of the ethics panel to resolve questions surrounding his travel and Republican members of the committee said last week they were willing to investigate the majority leader.
See also GOP to Reverse Ethics Rule Blocking New DeLay Probe (WaPo, A1)
A good, if belated, move on Hastert’s part. I’ve defended the rationale behind some of these rules changes in the past. However, even though their aims were not nefarious, changing the rules primarily for the benefit of a powerful member of the Leadership simply gives the appearance of impropriety.
We’re living in an era where the politicization of the ethics process, and even the criminal justice system vice political leaders, is no longer considered out of bounds. That’s a sad development, although one not easily remedied. If the rules are going to be changed, though, they have to be done prospectively rather than in response to a specific, pending case, and in a bipartisan fashion. Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree that using the ethics rules to harrass powerful members on either side (whether DeLay or Steny Hoyer, or whomever) is undesirable and work together to craft rules to minimize that destructive practice.