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The Race for Majority Leader

Tuesday, January 10, 2006  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt
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The Washington Post continues to focus on the alleged two-person race to replace Tom DeLay, though it is far too early to pronounce it a closed field. Last week, for example, the Cincinnati Post reported that Congressman Boehner received $32,500 in contributions from Abramoff clients. That’s not a death blow, of course, but it raises the “Signatures” issue of how close a relationship if any existed with Abramoff. (It is a mark in Boehner’s favor, as George Will notes, that in 15 years, “Boehner has never put an earmark in an appropriations bill,” but how much will that matter if he had signature privileges at Signatures?)

Expect the Post and the other bigs to spend a few days digging into both front-runners and then, post-Alito hearings, to produce big spreads with the details of any Abramoff connections. Until at least a week passes, no Member should be declaring absolute commitment to either candidate. “This Abramoff stuff is still a breaking story,” Congressman Jeff Flake told the Washington Times. “One could have the commitments, but one press story could change that.”

As I mentioned to John Podhoretz on yesterday’s program, blogs pretty much killed off the nomination of Harriet Meirs before MSM even knew what was happening. The same thing could happen to either of these candidates, though focus won’t arrive until the main event in the Senate Judiciary Committee concludes. Watch The Corner very carefully, though, as its wires into the GOP Caucus are very finely tuned.

Also note that The Wall Street Journal’s venerable Washington Wire goes online and daily today, another extraordinary advantage in the race to make the WSJ.com the one online resource you absolutely have to subscribe to.

Finally, HT to Ace for pointing to this little gem of a story. Though not proof of anything, a suitcase full of photos of landmarks is at least a reminder that we live in a 9/11 world despite every effort by the left to pretend it is 9/10. Serious times require a serious process to settle on a serious leader.

UPDATE:

Congressman Boehner puts out a strongstatement on the Abramoff scandal:

Building Trust: Jack Abramoff, and Our Response.

Developing and communicating a vision with our voters requires trust, and clearly the recent events surrounding Jack Abramoff have had a major impact on that trust. We need to address what the Abramoff scandal represents, directly and honestly. After all, to keep the trust, you have to earn the trust.

It might surprise those who entered the House over the last 10 years that I cut my teeth here as a reformer. Along with several of my colleagues – the so-called “Gang of Seven” – I exposed and closed a House bank upon which dozens of Members had written bad checks, exposed House accounting books that were so bad they couldn’t even be audited, and exposed how some Members used the House Post Office to cash in unused official postage stamps for their own personal benefit.

Several senior Democrat Members lost their seats because of those exposures, along with some Republicans. Some Democrats, including former Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, went to jail. These patterns of corruption showed a Democrat Party that had grown complacent and self-serving after 40 years of control of Congress, and were a big reason Americans gave control of the House to Republicans in 1994.

So when it comes to institutional ethics and reform, I’ve got some experience, and some thoughts I’d like to share with you.

The sordid spectacle of Jack Abramoff arises from two factors whose connection he personified, and I would suggest that any response that’s actually going to be effective will have to address those factors.

The first factor is the tremendous power of the federal government and the role of Congress in funding the federal government. When a few words in a bill we pass can mean tens of millions – even hundreds of millions – to a company or a group, there is every incentive for them to spend the relative pittance that they think – or are led to think – might help them get those few words in law.

Second is that many of the lobbyists who enter our offices every day to represent their clients are, for all practical purposes, complete mysteries to us. Yet for the House to function, some degree of trust is necessary. Many lobbyists are of the highest integrity and feel as much of a duty to the House as a democratic institution as they do to their clients. But there’s every incentive for those with more questionable ethics to shortchange us and the House. And absent our personal, longstanding relationships, there is no way for us to tell the difference between the two.

So I’d offer a few thoughts for how to respond to the Abramoff scandal:

What Abramoff and his colleagues have admitted to doing is already illegal; the allegations against House colleagues, if proven, are already impermissible under House rules.

We should think seriously about bringing greater transparency to the lobbying industry. Anyone – anyone – can call himself or herself a lobbyist, recruit clients, and make appearances on their behalf on the Hill. Clearer standards and greater transparency would promote greater institutional integrity and protect us against those in the industry who put their own short-term interests against the public trust.

Many of us have served in state government, which have their own systems in place for ensuring integrity in public office. We need to take full advantage of their experience with these systems and how they’ve worked. Accordingly, I’d convene a task force of current House Members who have previously served in state government to identify best practices currently in place at the state level.

We need to get our arms around the power that our budget represents. We need to distinguish, for example, between legitimate earmarks with a clear local need and those for which the merits are less well demonstrated.

But finally, we need to dedicate ourselves to serving the real needs and principles of our constituents. The corruption of Dan Rostenkowski and other Democrats in the early 1990s stuck to their colleagues because Americans thought House Democrats were putting their own welfare above the welfare of Americans. We can’t let voters think the same about us. So just as important as any specific reform is our commitment to legislating. If we are bold and dutiful in doing our jobs – if we show action, not just words – voters will respect that.

I will be renewing my request for an interview with Congressman Boehner on these and other issues. Hopefully he will be willing to expand on this statement on air.

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