Tuesday, June 05, 2007

CBC, House Democratic Leadership At Odds Over Jefferson

Democratic leaders fear that Rep. William J. Jefferson's indictment yesterday on racketeering and bribery charges, coming exactly one year after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi engineered his ouster from the powerful Ways and Means Committee, could rekindle a smoldering dispute between the speaker and black lawmakers who were once pillars of her power. ...

The Democratic steering committee, which sets committee assignments, will convene this week to consider whether to remove Jefferson from his last committee post: a seat on the Small Business Committee, a relative backwater of power. Senior House Democratic leadership aides said he almost certainly would be dropped. Some leadership aides suggested emissaries could be dispatched within days to ask for Jefferson's resignation from the House. ...

Senior leadership aides cautioned that a quick resignation under pressure could set a dangerous precedent, suggesting that a politicized Justice Department could target troublesome lawmakers with specious indictments. Jefferson spokeswoman Remi Braden-Cooper said that neither the congressman nor his staff had been contacted by the speaker's office. ...

With lawmakers just beginning to return to Washington from a week-long break, it was not clear last night whether Jefferson's indictment would unite Democrats against the nine-term House member, or whether it would reignite tensions between the black Caucus and Pelosi. She made a "culture of corruption" a central attack line in last year's campaign against Republicans.

A serious rupture with the black caucus would divide Democrats at a time when unity is needed to confront Republicans on the war in Iraq and as they face off with President Bush on domestic spending. Despite Davis's initial statement of support, many prominent black lawmakers remained silent. A spokesman for Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said she would not discuss Jefferson's case.

But last June, many members of the caucus were incensed when the Democratic Caucus voted to remove Jefferson from the Ways and Means Committee, where he had a hand in tax, trade and health-care policy. Federal investigators were closing in on Jefferson, with guilty pleas from his business associates and word of cash found bundled in his freezer.

The black caucus accused Pelosi of a racially tinged double standard. As she was moving against Jefferson, she allowed Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-W.Va.), who is white, to remain on the Appropriations Committee despite dealing with his own federal investigation. Mollohan, now chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that funds the departments of Commerce and Justice, did recuse himself in issues involving federal law enforcement.

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