When the Rep. Mark Foley sexual predation scandal broke last week I thought that this would just be another sex scandal. The member resigns in disgrace, end of story. However, Foley’s Internet advances on teenage pages revealed an institutional corruption created by a leadership that favors protecting electoral majorities over protecting children from predators. The House leadership also is shown to have a disdain for pursuing investigations of any kind. This scandal continues to show that unethical behavior has not been pursued by the leadership for fear of losing their slim congressional majority.
This scandal erupted in a matter of days. You can’t say that the House leadership couldn’t have figured this out and dealt with this last year when ABC News took a couple of days to get to the bottom it. Matt Yglesias explains this point, “The difference is that when ABC News and others saw smoke, they went looking for fire. They investigated. When Hastert and co. saw smoke, by contrast, they decided to turn off the smoke detectors and hope the house didn’t burn down until after the midterms.” It is always possible that Speaker Hastert was too involved in other activities at the time to pay much attention to this festering problem of sexual predation.
Snark aside, this disdain for investigating and desire to protect potentially unethical action by members has a history under Dennis Hastert. When Tom DeLay faced multiple admonishments from the House Ethics Committee and a potential indictment for his role in the Texas redistricting the House leadership did not attempt to solve the issues of his unethical and possibly criminal behavior. Instead they changed the rules to protect his leadership position and purged the Ethics Committee of members who had voted to admonish. Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, is still holding office despite pleading guilty to accepting bribes. He has not been asked to resign.
Look at the initial reaction to the Jack Abramoff scandal. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said in 2005, “From everything I’ve heard, again, from the comments and responding to those, is everything he’s done was according to the law.” Tom DeLay stated that Abramoff “has never been on my payroll.” Tony Rudy and Michael Scanlon were, however, on DeLay’s payroll. Only one committee in both houses of Congress, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee conducted an investigation into Jack Abramoff’s illegal activity prior to the super-lobbyist’s guilty plea.
The Foley case follows that exact same formula as these other scandals. Hastert and top House leadership members (Tom Reynolds and John Boehner) knew about allegations last year and did not pursue them. They also did not discuss the issues with minority Democrats on the page board and ABC reports that Democratic sponsored pages were not warned about Foley’s “friendly” behavior while Republican sponsored pages were. Now, shockingly, top Republicans and House leadership are trying to defend and deflect this scandal. White House press secretary Tony Snow has stated that these were “simply naughty e-mails,” the National Republican Congressional Committee has stated that they “would gladly accept Mr. Foley’s money [$2.7 million] or part of it to devote to House races,” and former Speaker Newt Gingrich claims that if Foley had been investigated last year the investigators would have been accused of “gay bashing”.
It should be strongly noted that there is no current House investigation into the matter. Hastert is undertaking an internal review, but this is not a real investigation with members of the minority party involved. While the scandal has been referred to the House Ethics Committee no formal investigation has begun. In fact, the House, after spending a whopping 93 days working in Washington, is now out of session as congressmen have scurried back to their districts to campaign. Clearly, this scandal highlights an inability by the current House majority to police its own members and to conduct any kind of serious investigation (seriously, it took ABC two days to figure this one out).
Dennis Hastert ought to face much of the blame for his inaction and inattention to problems. Chuck Todd and John Mercurio of the Hotline explain Hastert’s lack of action perfectly, “Hastert is notoriously slow when encouraging a wounded member of his party to get going. From Tom DeLay to Bob Ney, Hastert never seems willing to push members into what needs to be done. Now, in all three recent cases (DeLay, Ney and Foley), the member eventually did the right thing — but at a politically painful pace.
Hastert, for better or worse, is an institutionalist. …he allows the system to work even when it appears the system doesn’t work very fast, and unfortunately for him, very well.”