The night of the long gavels?
Timed as it was to get lost in the hullabaloo of the State of the Union address, the Tuesday night/Wednesday morning purge of the House Ethics Committee was still a pretty audacious move.
It's been known for some time that the now-outgoing Chairman of the House Ethics Committee, Rep. Joel Hefley (R) of Colorado was going to get canned for his various offenses related to the Ethics Committee's handling, be it ever so gentle, of Rep. Tom DeLay (R) of Texas. The only mystery was just when the ax would fall.
But in this case, Speaker Hastert seemed to be channeling Michael Corleone in one of his less appealing moments.
As we noted back on November 19th, three of the five Republican members of the House Ethics Committee turned out to be in the Shays Handful. Or putting it more prosaically, three of them voted against the DeLay Rule.
The three were Hefley, Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R) of Missouri and Rep. Steven LaTourette (R) of Ohio.
Hastert axed all three.
The two who toed the DeLay line -- Rep. Judy Biggert (R) of Illinois and Rep. Doc Hastings (R) of Washington -- stay. And Hastings becomes Chairman.
Hulshof seemed surprised by the turn of events and in his own words, "deeply disappointed."
The following comes from the St.Louis Post-Dispatch ...
âI believe the decision was a direct result of our work in the last session,â Hulshof said in an interview, âparticularly my chairing the investigative subcommitteeâ that examined ethics charges against DeLay, R-Texas, in the 108th Congress.
Hulshof said his opposition to recent proposed changes of the GOPâs ethics standards may also played a role in his removal.
What's most telling, though, in this whole grisly affair is less the complaints of the purged than the comments of Hastert spokesman John Freehery who apparently couldn't be troubled to keep a straight face when denying that the purge was a purge.
This from the Rocky Mountain News about Hefley ...
John Feehery, a spokesman for Hastert, denied the charge, saying Hefley did a "great job" as chairman but had served the mandatory number of terms allowed without a waiver of House rules.
"He wasn't ousted. We have said all along we would make a change because that's what the rules state," Feehery said. "Any time you're (taken) off the Ethics Committee, it's not a punishment. It's not a joyful type of assignment."
And this about Hulshof from the Post-Dispatch ...
As for Hulshof, John Feehery, a spokesman for Hastert, said there was no connection to the DeLay matter and that the speaker simply wanted fresh faces on the panel.
âIt wasnât really removing him,â said Feehery. âIt was more like relieving him of his duty. The Speaker doesnât like to have people who are such talented legislators like him have to spend so much time on ethics.â
Feehery noted that Hulshof sits on the Ways and Means Committee and âis likely to play a critical role on Social Security and tax reform.
â... Ethics is more of a burden than a privilege,â Feehery added. âAnd the speaker likes to mix it up,â referring to Hastertâs desire to put new members on the panel.
But Hulshof said he had specifically asked Hastert to reappoint him to the panel and noted that two other GOP members who were allowed to stayâReps. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., and Judy Biggert, R-Ill.âhave served on the committee longer than he has.
When corruption is really entrenched, there's no attempt to hide it.