House Republicans are treating Vance McAllister and Michael Grimm very differently. Why?

House Majority Leader Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.) met Tuesday afternoon with Rep. Vance McAllister (R-La.)  -- aka the "Kissing Congressman" -- and delivered an ultimatum: Resign immediately. Cantor is scheduled to have a similar meeting with embattled Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) on Wednesday. But the message is expected to be different.


In a photo taken Nov. 21, 2013, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) swears in Rep. Vance McAllister (R-La.), who had recently won a special election. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

"As far as Mr. Grimm is concerned, I think he’s got to make his case to his constituents and he’ll have to make his case to the court," Cantor told reporters Tuesday. Cantor declined to say why Grimm but not McAllister gets to make his case politically and legally. Later, aides explained that while the Louisiana congressman has apologized for being caught on camera kissing a former female staffer, Grimm is denying the 20 federal charges filed against him on Monday.

In the eyes of Cantor and House Republican leaders, Grimm will get the benefit of the doubt as the legal process continues.

Democrats immediately panned that decision.

A spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee suggested that Republicans had decided "it is worse to kiss the wrong person in a safe Republican seat than to face a 20-count criminal indictment in a swing district." McAllister's district strongly favors Republicans; President Obama won 52 percent in 2012 in Grimm's Staten Island-based seat.

The inconsistency is notable, especially since Cantor pledged back in 2010 that Republicans would have a “zero tolerance” policy towards ethical missteps. But recent history is a reminder that GOP leaders handle different types of scandals -- sexual vs. legal -- differently.

There have been several analogs to McAllister's current morass in recent years.

In May 2008, then-Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) announced he wouldn't run for another term a few days after a late-night drunk-driving arrest in Northern Virginia. The incident led to revelations that he had fathered a three-year-old girl with a woman who was not his wife. He eventually served four days in jail for his crime.

Two years later, Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) confirmed long-swirling rumors of an affair with a staffer and resigned within days, partly under pressure from then-Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who was concerned that the affair would be investigated by the House Ethics Committee.

Rep. Chris Lee (R-N.Y.) waves to a crowd at Industrial Support Inc. in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2010. (David Duprey/AP)
Rep. Chris Lee (R-N.Y.) waves to a crowd at Industrial Support Inc. in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2010. (David Duprey/AP)

Just a few days into the GOP's control of the House in 2011, Rep. Chris Lee (R-N.Y.) resigned just hours after a gossip Web site reported that the married Republican had allegedly sent flirtatious e-mail messages and a shirtless photo of himself to a woman he met online.

Grimm's case falls under a different category of lawmakers who faced criminal investigations. His situation best resembles what happened to former Reps. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) and John Doolittle (R-Calif.). Both were forced to relinquish plum committee assignments in 2007 at the start of criminal investigations.

Doolittle stepped down from the House Appropriations Committee when the FBI raided the Northern Virginia home of his wife amid concerns that he had used his post to advance the interests of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and other allies. The next day, Renzi resigned from the House Intelligence Committee when the FBI searched his family's business in Arizona as part of an investigation. Both men later announced they wouldn't run for reelection.

Grimm's situation is slightly different than those two because he only quit the House Financial Services Committee once federal prosecutors charged him with crimes after a two and a half year FBI investigation.

The exception to the scandal rule is Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.). He entered uncharted congressional territory when he pleaded guilty in December to misdemeanor cocaine possession. Boehner and Cantor didn't immediately call for Radel's resignation for a few reasons.

First, Radel asked to meet with Boehner in person just hours before the news broke; he took it upon himself to inform leadership and earned plaudits for doing so. He completely cooperated with authorities, pleaded guilty, issued a written and televised apology and took a leave of absence in order to enroll in a rehabilitation program. Radel also had quickly emerged as a popular and telegenic first-term lawmaker who was eager and willing to appear frequently to deliver the party line on Spanish-language television and radio.

Ultimately, Radel couldn't survive the pressure from Florida Republicans who wanted him gone. He resigned shortly after returning from rehab.

Former Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) leaves the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Va., with his family after being convicted on 11 of 16 counts in August 2009. (Kevin Wolf/AP
Former Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) leaves the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Va., with his family after being convicted on 11 of 16 counts in August 2009. (Kevin Wolf/AP

Democrats have also handled scandal inconsistently. Then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) removed Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) from the House Ways and Means Committee in 2006 after the FBI found $90,000 stashed away in his freezer. And she later ousted Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) as the committee's chairman, but only after the Ethics Committee filed charges against him.

Nobody has been treated quite like Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who was quickly pushed out of Congress after first denying, then eventually confirming that he had sent photos of himself to several women.

But Democrats don't currently control the House and generally have avoided ethical issues during their years in the minority.

Grimm's ultimate fate is unclear but he will cause headaches for Republicans as long as he stays in office. His name will appear on the ballot in November unless, in keeping with New York law, he resigns his seat and moves out of his Staten Island district. That robs the GOP of a chance to run someone else in his place. And if he stays on the ballot, Democrats will make Grimm's presence a campaign issue not just in New York, but nationwide. That pressure may ultimately prove too much for Boehner, Cantor and the GOP establishment to endure.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
Paul Kane covers Congress and politics for the Washington Post.
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