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Ethics committee may be back in business

If you’ve been feeling lost and adrift since the House Ethics Committee went silent, fear not for their return may be imminent.

A partisan dispute that stalled a House investigation of Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, moved closer to resolution Wednesday as Republicans dropped their insistence on a new staffing setup for the ethics committee, top Democrats said.

House Ethics Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., bowed to Democrats’ demands that the committee hire a chief of staff who has bipartisan support and does not have partisan connections.

Hastings had sought to install his top aide as staff director, a plan that drew opposition from Democrats who alleged the move would violate rules adopted in 1997 that the committee be overseen by a “professional nonpartisan staff” approved by a majority of the panel.


After meeting Wednesday with Hastings, the ranking Democrat on the ethics committee, Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., issued a statement saying the two leaders had “reached an agreement in principle” regarding the hiring of a chief counsel-staff director.

The statement said that both Hastings and Mollohan also could appoint their personal staff to the committee but that those employees “would have no managerial or supervisory role over that professional nonpartisan staff.”

Mollohan added that “although we have made significant progress, our agreement is not final, as some issues require further discussion.”

There’s still a push in some quarters to install an outside counsel to investigate Tom DeLay’s global gallivanting, since committee chair Doc Hastings has his own issues to deal with in those matters, but that’s not one of the sticking points that Mollohan is referring to. The Hill has more on the agreement in principle, which sounds like it’s more or less in practice as well from their account.

Sam Rosenfeld makes a good point about this latest retreat by the Republicans.

It’s worth mentioning that over the course of the entire struggle over ethics procedures in the House, Democrats have managed to win, completely, every fight they’ve picked, forcing the Republicans to back off of every single endeavor they’ve attempted to water the rules down. Republicans retreated on the party rule change shielding indicted leaders; then they retreated on the proposed ethics committee change revoking the 30-year-old rule requiring that House members behave in a manner that “reflects creditably” on the institution; they passed and then reversed the rule changes allowing for legal counsel to represent multiple targets of an ethics investigation and requiring a committee majority, or both the chairman and ranking member, to greenlight an investigation. Now they’re backing off their attempt to politicize the committee’s staff. This kind of victory is one Democrats will want to savor.

Nicely done, ladies and gentlemen. Now keep at it.

(End note: I’m quite certain that The Stakeholder has a wealth of links on this subject today, but for some reason bringing up their blog has crashed by Internet Explorer the last two times I’ve tried it. I’ll check later when I’m at home and can use Firefox.)

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