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WASHINGTON, DC – House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) released the following statement today regarding the recent firing of professional staffers on the House Ethics Committee by the new Republican Chairman of the Committee, Rep. Doc Hastings (WA):
“Chairman Hastings’ firing of two highly respected members of the committee’s professional staff is one more step in the elimination of consideration of ethical violations in the House of Representatives. And when considered alongside the many other Republican abuses [see list below], it ought to outrage the American people.
“When Rep. Joel Hefley was fired as Chairman of the Ethics Committee last month and Rep. Hastings was appointed in his place, I warned that the committee was on the verge of losing its ability to act in an independent and non-partisan fashion and simply becoming an extension of the Republican leadership. Rep. Hefley’s only transgression was that he had the audacity to exercise the independence that is essential to a credible ethics process.
“Yesterday’s unwarranted staff purge confirms what I most feared, and it smacks of retribution because these staffers put the ethical integrity of this institution above the agenda of the Republican leadership. This action comes just two weeks after the Republican leadership’s decision to remove Rep. Hefley, and two other members whose partisanship ended at the Ethics Committee’s door. Reps. Hulshof and LaTourette were replaced with members whose contributions to Majority Leader DeLay’s legal defense fund call into question their impartiality on possible future matters before the committee. This latest decision to remove non-partisan staff shows that the Republican leadership is simply not interested in having a credible ethics process.
“I fear that a towering arrogance has infected the Republican leadership that, left unchecked, will damage the reputation and credibility of the House of Representatives and harm the interests of the American people. Republicans and Democrats who share the conviction that their first obligation as members of the House is not to party but to the strictest ethics code should be concerned about the direction in which the Ethics Committee is headed. An Ethics Committee that has been stripped of its ability to enforce our body’s ethics rules fairly and rigorously will send the unmistakable message that the highest standards of conduct do not matter in the House, or anywhere else, for that matter.
“I will be following very closely the personnel practices of Chairman Hastings. If he thinks he is serving the best interests of this great institution by transforming the Ethics Committee into a reliable pawn of the Republican leadership, he is sadly mistaken.”
The Continuing Pattern of Republican Arrogance and Abuse
• The Ethics Committee rebuked Majority Leader DeLay on three separate charges in 2004, and deferred action on a fourth count that is being investigated by a Texas grand jury. This was the fourth time in five years that Rep. DeLay has been rebuked by the Ethics Committee.
• The Ethics Committee sent a letter to former Rep. Chris Bell (D-TX), who filed the ethics complaint in 2004 against Majority Leader DeLay, that was deliberately designed to chill the filing of ethics complaints by House Members.
• In one of its first acts in this 109th Congress, the House Republican leadership changed the ethics rules so that if the Committee is deadlocked on whether to proceed with an investigative subcommittee 45 days after an ethics complaint has been filed, the matter is dropped. The rules used to provide that a deadlock after 45 days would automatically trigger an investigative subcommittee. This turned a bipartisan process into a partisan process.
• The Republican leadership fired Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO) who presided over the Committee when it admonished Majority Leader DeLay and replaced him with Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), who according to press accounts is very close to the Republican leadership.
• The Republican leadership also replaced Republican Reps. Kenny Hulshof (MO) and Steve LaTourette (OH) with Reps. Tom Cole (OK) and Lamar Smith (TX), both of whom have contributed to Majority Leader DeLay’s legal defense fund.
• Former Rep. Nick Smith (R-MI) and Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) (as well as Majority Leader DeLay) were admonished by the Ethics Committee for their conduct during the unprecedented three-hour vote on Medicare prescription drug legislation in 2003.
• Former Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA), the former Chairman of Energy and Commerce Committee, fielded a job offer from PhRMA, the trade group for pharmaceutical companies, while working on prescription drug legislation. He was later hired as PhRMA’s executive director for an extremely lucrative salary.
• The Committee, to date, has not investigated whether House Members and staff received financial favors from Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff.