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January 3rd, 2005:

DeLay rule rescinded

Well, well, well. Sometimes outrage gets results.

House Republicans suddenly reversed course Monday, deciding to retain a tough standard for lawmaker discipline and reinstate a rule that would force Majority Leader Tom DeLay to step aside if indicted by a Texas grand jury.

The surprise dual decisions were made by Speaker Dennis Hastert and by DeLay who asked GOP colleagues to undo the extreme act of loyalty they handed him in November. Then, Republicans changed a party rule so DeLay could retain his leadership post if indicted by the grand jury in Austin that charged three of the Texas Republican’s associates.

When Republicans began their closed-door meeting Monday night, leaders were considering a rules change that would have made it tougher to rebuke a House member for misconduct. The proposal would have required a more specific finding of ethical violations.

Republicans gave no indication before the meeting that the indictment rule would be changed. Even more surprising was DeLay’s decision to make the proposal himself.

Jonathan Grella, a DeLay spokesman, said DeLay still believed it was legitimate to allow a leader to retain his post while under indictment. But Grella said that by reinstating the rule that he step aside, DeLay was “denying the Democrats their lone issue. Anything that could undermine our agenda needs to be nipped in the bud.”

Grella said Republicans did not know that DeLay would make the proposal. “He was doing some thinking and this was the conclusion he came to,” the spokesman said.

Hastert made the proposal to retain the current standards of conduct.

Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., said, “It’s a mark of a leader to take a bullet for the team and not for the team to take a bullet for the leader. I’m very glad we decided to stick with the rules.”

Hastert spokesman John Feehery said that a change in standards of conduct “would have been the right thing to do but it was becoming a distraction.”

Brendan Daly, spokesman for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, said Republicans pulled back on the discipline rule because “the issue simply became too hot for them to handle.”

Democrats on Monday toughened their own indictment rule. Previously, only committee chairmen were required to step aside if indicted. Now, the same rule applies to House Democratic leaders.

[…]

Congressional watchdog groups joined House Democrats in opposition to a change, saying any such move would be for one purpose: to protect DeLay.

“All of this is designed to make one man truly above the law,” said Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said, “Tom DeLay is a poster boy for ethics problems in the House.”

The Republicans had taken a lot of well-deserved criticism for their arrogant attempt to separate consequences from actions – from Houston to Washington (the state as well as the District), Florida to Minnesota and back to Florida again, and a twofer in Colorado. Despite all that, I’m still amazed they caved. May this be the beginning of a trend.

I like Josh Marshall’s wrapup.

So the DeLay Rule is no more? After all the trouble of getting Republican bankbenchers to walk the plank in support of the thing? We’ve put some good bit of time into putting together our gallery of DeLay Rule Letter-Writer letters to constituents with all their mannered and far-fetched explanations for why they voted for the thing. And now this? The rug is pulled out of under them?

Oh the humanity …

Indeed.

(Several editorial links courtesy of The Daily DeLay.)

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story, plus coverage from the NYT and WaPo.

Dave Barry takes a break

Dave Barry is signing off for a year or more as the Miami Herald’s weekly humor columnist. Whether you think he “used to be funnier” or not – personally, I think his material is a bit familiar, but he himself is about as funny as ever – he has certainly earned the break. I hope he’ll pop up from time to time during his sabbatical when the muse strikes him – it appears that his blog is still active – because he really is one of the best writers around. But if this is his swan song, then all I can say is “We who laugh at exploding toilets and falling cows salute you”. Thanks to Matt for the reminder.

Hubert Vo’s journey

Due to be sworn in to the 79th Legislature in two days but with an electoral challenge still hanging over his head, Hubert Vo talks about how he got here.

Vo worked as a busboy and a cook. He assembled digital watches and video games. He was robbed more times than he cares to remember as a convenience store clerk. He went door to door updating listings for telephone books. He’s been a steelworker and a goldsmith, built computers and formed a computer company. He earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Houston, where he met his wife. And they’re raising three children.

He got into real estate, built shopping centers, manages apartment complexes and even earned a license as an air-conditioning technician.

“I worked at different places, getting understanding of a worker, of a manager, of a supervisor,” Vo said. “From the ground up, I have that hands-on knowledge, different classes of society. Hopefully I can understand the people of my district better than anybody else, because I’ve been through all those things myself.”

In war-ravaged Vietnam, where his father worked for the Vietnamese navy and coast guard and had ties to the CIA, Vo was a freshman in college studying economics and politics when their world imploded.

His father brought home word they’d have to leave.

They boarded a boat to the Philippines, then went to a resettlement camp in Little Rock, Ark., which they chose over California (too expensive) and Pennsylvania (too cold). He and his family were adopted by a church congregation in Palestine in East Texas, moved to Lubbock in 1976 and to Houston a year later. His father had learned through a friend that Houston would be a good place to settle, crowded like Saigon and full of opportunity.

Good stuff. On the subject of that electoral challenge, there’s an online petition urging the House leadership to reject it and seat Vo. I don’t put a whole lot of stock in the effectiveness of these things – a handwritten letter on actual paper sent by snail mail to your state rep is about a billion times more effective – but it only takes a second to add your name if you’re interested.

I’m just thankful that snarkery is still permitted

Wow. How big a persecution complex do you have to have to do this?

Followup on the Gregg Phillips story

Kimberly adds quite a bit to my post yesterday on Gregg Phillips and his self-enriching tendencies. She’s got a lot of good insight there, so check it out.

Something I want to clarify: I thought the story that RG Ratcliffe wrote was a very good one, and for sure it’s not one that could have been written in June of 2003. My point was that while couldn’t know at that time for sure what Phillips was going to do as the HHS boss, we did know what he had done in basically the same job in Mississippi. That quote Ratcliffe used about “the appearance of impropriety” was known in 2003. I spoke to Chron reporter Polly Ross Hughes, who had written the original piece on Phillips, on the phone about it, and sent her the relevant links via email. My complaint is that this aspect of Phillips’ record was known at the time, but not reported on. As such, however good a job Ratcliffe did in this Sunday’s story, it feels like locking the barn after the horse was stolen to me.

Am I being churlish? Maybe. But I really feel annoyed when it seems clear to me that a few minutes with Google could have produced a better story.

Psyche!

You know, I’m not actually sure whether the new TV show about the psychic who fights crime will have a higher gobbledygook quotient than the new TV show about the mathematician who fights crime, but doesn’t it just give you a warm fuzzy to know that there’s finally a show that portrays the psychic community in a positive light?

Laurie McQuary of Lake Oswego, Ore., appreciates Court TV’s approach to featuring the psychic as another investigation tool. “It’s being presented as not only credible, but also accepted by law enforcement,” she said. McQuary is often featured on Court TV’s Psychic Detectives, and tonight’s episode, “Hollywood Mystery,” details her work on a Los Angeles case of a missing model. She has made 61 TV appearances, and after her last chat with Larry King, her workload tripled.

“I am absolutely ecstatic every time I find a missing person, or if I even make a confirmation in a case and where I know I made a difference.”

DuBois, the woman upon whom Medium is based, seems pleased with the NBC series because it helps break the stereotype that psychics are nutty.

“The story rings true to my life and how I experience it,” she said. “The best part is that other people will be able to have a glimpse at my life from my perspective. Hopefully it will help people to relate to what I do and that there really is another side after we leave this world.”

How nice for you. And how nice for us that a leading local psychic has given some of her predictions for 2005:

• An increased coupling of western medicine and holistic treatments will begin eradicating many forms of cancer.
• Osama Bin Laden will be found dead and much of the terrorist movement will disintegrate.
• U.S. fighting in Iraq will continue all through 2005.
• Discovering that Iran does have nuclear weapons and is developing biological and chemical weapons, the U.S. is likely to begin military operations there.
• Boxer Muhammad Ali and Monaco’s Prince Rainier III will die.
• Several hurricanes will hit Florida, but with less damage than in 2004. Texas will not see any hurricanes, but will see heavy summer rains.
• Moderate earthquakes will shake California in January or February, and a level 3 quake will shake up Los Angeles in the spring.
• The stock market will get stronger, especially in energy fields. Interest rates will rise.

Heavy summer rains in Texas? The stock market will go up? She really goes out on a limb, doesn’t she? Maybe she just wants to do better than the other leading psychics did in 2004. I’ll check back in a year and see.

UPDATE: For what it’s worth, leading psychicbusiness columnist Shannon Buggs thinks the picture is a bit murkier for energy stocks in 2005.

RIP, Shirley Chisholm and Bob Matsui

Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress, has died at the age of 80.

“She was our Moses that opened the Red Sea for us,” Robert E. Williams, president of the NAACP in Flagler County, told the Associated Press late Sunday. He did not have the details of her death.

Chisholm, who was raised in a black New York City neighborhood and was elected to the U.S. House in 1968, was a riveting speaker who criticized Congress as being too clubby and unresponsive.

“My greatest political asset, which professional politicians fear, is my mouth, out of which come all kinds of things one shouldn’t always discuss for reasons of political expediency,” she told voters.

She went to Congress the same year Richard Nixon was elected to the White House and served until two years into Ronald Reagan’s tenure as president.

Newly elected, she was assigned to the House Agriculture Committee, which she felt was irrelevant to her urban constituency. In an unheard-of move, she demanded reassignment and got switched to the Veterans Affairs Committee.

Not long afterward she voted for Hale Boggs, who was white, over John Conyers, who was black, for majority leader. Boggs rewarded her with a place on the prized Education and Labor Committee, and she was its third-ranking member when she left.

She ran for the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1972. When rival candidate and ideological opposite George Wallace was shot, she visited him in the hospital — an act that appalled her followers.

And when she needed support to extend the minimum wage to domestic workers two years later, it was Wallace who got her the votes from Southern members of Congress.

Pragmatism and power were watchwords. “Women have learned to flex their political muscles. You got to flex that muscle to get what you want,” she said during her presidential campaign.

In her book, Unbought and Unbossed, she recounted the campaign that brought her to Congress and wrote of her concerns about that body: “Our representative democracy is not working because the Congress that is supposed to represent the voters does not respond to their needs. I believe the chief reason for this is that it is ruled by a small group of old men.”

Her leadership traits were recognized by her parents early on, she said. Born Shirley St. Hill in New York City on Nov. 30, 1924, she was the eldest of four daughters of a Guyanese father and a Barbadian mother.

She was married twice. Her 1949 marriage to Conrad Chisholm ended in divorce in February 1977. Later that year she married Arthur Hardwick, Jr. She had no children.

Once discussing what her legacy might be, she said, “I’d like them to say that Shirley Chisholm had guts. That’s how I’d like to be remembered.”

Well, I’ll say it: She had guts. Rest in peace, Shirley Chisholm.

More sad news from California as Rep. Bob Matsui passed away over the weekend.

Matsui, 63, died Saturday night at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., outside Washington.

Matsui was the third-ranking Democrat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, where he was his party’s point man on Social Security legislation. He also recently chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

His office said the congressman had been diagnosed several months ago with myelodysplastic disorder, an often-fatal form of bone marrow cancer. The congressman’s family said he entered the hospital on Dec. 24 with pneumonia.

[…]

Matsui was born in 1941. The following year, his family was among the Japanese-Americans forced into internment camps during World War II. Decades later, he helped pass legislation apologizing for the internment policy and providing compensation for the survivors.

“True believers in the freedom and justice of the American system, many internees simply could not believe that their country could do this to them,” Matsui said in a 1988 speech to the House. “My own father could not even talk about his experience in the Tule Lake Internment Camp until 40 years after his freedom was returned to him.”

An attorney, Matsui became a Sacramento City Council member in 1971 and was elected to represent the capital area’s solidly Democratic 5th Congressional District in 1978.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will call a special election to fill Matsui’s seat. Analysts said Matsui’s successor will almost certainly be a Democrat, most likely a member of the Sacramento City Council or state lawmaker.

Rest in peace, Rep. Matsui.