What will the House Democratic Caucus do about Rep. Bill Jefferson?
The subject of a federal criminal probe and a House Ethics Committee investigation, Jefferson overwhelming won re-relection yesterday, after being forced into a runoff against fellow Democrat Karen Carter.
Saying that Jefferson is the subject of a federal criminal probe hardly seems to do the man justice. By all appearances, the only thing standing between Jefferson and a multi-count federal grand jury indictment for bribery and related unsavory activities was the power-drunk GOP majority in Congress, which, perhaps fearful of investigations into its own corrupt activities, tried to turn the FBI's raid of Jefferson's Capitol Hill office into a constitutional crisis.
Had it not been for the howls of protest over the FBI raid and the legal wrangling that followed, it appears very likely that Jefferson would already be under indictment by now. But the GOP majority is gone. The Democrats, having vaulted into control of Congress in significant part due to voters' disgust with entrenched Republican corruption, have made ethics a top priority. And Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi has already staked out a strong and laudable position on Jefferson's conduct in removing him from the powerful Ways and Means Committee even before the mid-term elections.
So Jefferson will return to Washington as a living, breathing embodiment of political corruption at the very moment that Democrats are trying to implement ethics reform. Nice, uh?
So what to do? My own preferred solution would be a two-fer. The House should refuse to seat Jefferson and Rep.-elect Vern Buchanan (R-FL). Buchanan was elected to Katherine Harris' old seat thanks to 18,000 undervotes in the Sarasota area, without which his Democratic opponent Christine Jennings almost certainly wins.
Republicans are already gearing up for a partisan bloodbath if the Democratic-controlled House refuses to seat Buchanan, the certified winner of a flawed election. What better way to take some of the wind out of those arguments than by simultaneously refusing to seat Jefferson, the flawed winner of a certified election?
Undemocratic, you say? The people have spoken? Perhaps. But the people's elected representatives in the House can democratically say that a member is unfit to serve. Is anyone other than his most compromised defenders seriously arguing that Jefferson is fit to serve?
Refusing to seat Jefferson right off the bat would be as bold a stroke as the introduction of any reform package within the first 100 days, and it would dramatically distinguish this Congress from its sorry predecessor.