Archive for Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Foley case reveals harmful partisanship

October 4, 2006

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The chairman of the campaign committee for House Republicans, Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York, often tells reporters he's convinced local issues will determine this year's congressional contests.

But now Reynolds, already facing a stiff re-election challenge, may be in even greater danger from the kind of national issue he often disdains: the way top House Republican leaders, including himself, covered up the case of Rep. Mark Foley.

Foley's abrupt resignation over allegations of improper communications with pages marks the latest personal scandal to envelop a House member. He is the third Republican to resign from Congress under a cloud this year; some Democrats may follow.

But the bigger, more institutional scandal is the way Republican leaders handled the matter. It epitomizes the secretive, partisan way they have run the House and looms as an issue in the Nov. 7 elections.

For months, if not longer, top House Republicans have known of allegations against Foley.

They never consulted the Democrats, nor invoked any institutional remedies to deal with the problems. Bizarrely, they kept the Florida congressman as chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children Caucus.

When the matter became public, they gave conflicting responses about who knew what when. And when forced to come clean, they immediately started demanding investigations they should have initiated months ago.

The House has always been more partisan than the Senate. When I covered it in the 1960s, majority Democrats often ran roughshod over the outmanned Republicans, legislatively and procedurally.

Indeed, Republicans defending their current tactics still cite the partisanship of former Democratic Speaker Jim Wright and a party-line 1985 vote to seat a Democrat in a disputed Indiana House race.

When the GOP was in the minority, Rep. Newt Gingrich contended that Republican leaders like Bob Michel had too cozy a relationship with the Democrats. In 1995, they ended that.

Rather than join the Democrats in the traditional nonpartisan orientation sessions, they held their own. They encouraged freshmen to leave their families in their districts, leading to less time in Washington and less opportunity to socialize with the other side away from work.

The new reality came home to me in an August 1995 conversation with Democratic leader Dick Gephardt. Recalling how past party leaders met regularly to work out procedural matters like scheduling, I asked how often he met with Gingrich, then speaker. I was stunned when he said they had met once in eight months.

That attitude extends into all aspects of the House. The GOP majority has limited the ability of Democrats to offer amendments and kept Democrats with opposing views off conference committees.

The Foley case illustrates the unilateral way they run the House.

Questions about the Florida congressman were brought to the attention of GOP leaders by Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., after the parents of an ex-page notified him about what they considered inappropriate e-mails from Foley.

Over a period of months, several top GOP leaders learned of the situation. Still, it remained a Republican secret. At no point did any of those in the know notify the Democrats. Illinois Republican John Shimkus, who heads a three-member board supervising the pages, said he "took immediate action to investigate," but did not inform Rep. Dale Kildee, his panel's only Democrat.

Those who met with Foley apparently thought it sufficient to warn him to stay away from pages.

Unlike past cases involving improper conduct between members and pages, no effort was made to take formal action against Foley, a deputy whip and a major fundraiser for GOP candidates. Only after last week's disclosure of the matter by ABC News did GOP leaders seek an investigation by the bipartisan Ethics Committee.

Now the leaders are hastily exercising damage control. And embattled Republican candidates may have to spend the next few days saying if they approve of how their leaders handled this.

Already in danger of losing House control, the GOP now faces a struggle to hold both Foley's and Reynolds' districts.

And the result could show if Reynolds was right when he said local concerns trump national issues in congressional races.

- Carl P. Leubsdorf is Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News.

Comments

prioress 8 years, 6 months ago

Quote of the day: "It's vile. It's more sad than anything else, to see someone with such potential throw it all down the drain because of a sexual addiction." --Mark Foley, on Bill Clinton, in 1998

Presented without comment; speaks for itself.

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