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May, 14th 2009

Whatever we do, let's not investigate Jack Murtha's ethics

– Liz Mair

That is essentially the message sent by Chris Van Hollen, Chair of the DCCC and assistant to Nancy Pelosi, and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, to Democratic House members earlier this week:

As the House prepared to vote this week on Republican Rep. Jeff Flake’s push for an ethics investigation involving Rep. John Murtha and other senior appropriators, Democratic leaders sent an unmistakable message to their members:

“Don’t be a Flake.”

That was the subject line of an e-mail that staffers for first- and second-term Democrats received Tuesday from Rep. Chris Van Hollen, assistant to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The message said that Democrats would once again be “voting to table another Flake resolution” — and it made clear that leadership would have its eyes on any Democrats even thinking about defecting.

Not that they needed reminding.

In another pre-vote e-mail, the office of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) warned Democrats that they would suffer in 2010 if Republicans succeeded in forcing an ethics investigation into the relationships Murtha and other veteran Democratic lawmakers had with the PMA Group.

“If the Flake resolution is referred to the Ethics Committee, members can expect attacks ads to be run against them alleging members to be ‘under investigation by the House Ethics Committee,’” the whip’s staff warned members.

Pardon me, but OH NOEZ!   Congressional Democrats are those same people who pledged to "drain the swamp" and who blasted a "culture of corruption" dominating in Washington in the run-up to the 2006 election-- and there's a very good argument to be made that they actually won control of Congress off the back of concerns over it (and ethics, generally-- see myth number 4 here).  Isn't sticking to that promise, even when it's one of their own, a little more important than a few scary attack ads being run (which, incidentally, would be quite easy for Democratic members supporting an investigation into Murtha to explain away by saying something like: "yeah, he's a bad apple and that's why I did the politically tough but necessary thing in voting to investigate him,")?  Wasn't that kind of Democrats', er, point back in 2006?  Didn't they effectively argue that Republicans had promised to pursue good governance while in power, not get fat and happy and use their power to benefit themselves, their donors, their friends and/or their family members (like Jack Murtha appears to have done)?  I'm pretty sure that's exactly what they did.

And so are a few rogue Democratic members, including Ron Kind of Wisconsin, who incidentally is one Democrat I actually have some time for (he worked with Flake on farm reform):

“We need to have an institutional capacity to do some tough self-policing,” said Rep. Ron Kind, a Wisconsin Democrat who has voted in favor of the Flake resolution. “Our party needs to be careful not to appear hypocritical on this stuff.”

Quite.  It looks like Democrats Scott Murphy, Mike Quigley and Paul Hodes were with him, but perhaps unsurprisingly, per Politico "more senior Democrats expressed little enthusiasm for policing their colleagues."  Perhaps the longer you've worked with Jack Murtha, the less noteworthy, interesting and significant you find content in stories like this or this or even this.

Here's something for those "more senior Democrats" to ponder: Right now, this is just a web ad.  But by next year, there might be an revamped, up-to-date, harder-hitting version running on TV screens all across the country.  You'd expect that with Jim Clyburn citing TV ads as something Democrats, in their totality, should be concerned about, there would be more long-term thinking on hand that would signal to these guys that they might want to look into Murtha a little bit more and then shop that story of self-policing and good governance to the press and voters-- which, incidentally, I suspect a lot of people would actually praise, rather than punish, them for.

But sadly not, it seems.  Mark Kirk, who has also railed about Democrats allowing "$8 million directed to 12 pet projects for PMA clients" to remain in the 2009 omnibus spending bill, has criticized the majority for having "a complete lack of judgment." (He's been in similar territory before where the question of congressional pensions for public integrity felons is concerned, as I previously noted here).  That assessment seems about right here.  At the end of the day, I'm not complaining... but then I'm not a Democrat. [intro]

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