Worst Week in Washington

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Charlie Rangel's unlikely inquisitor

By Chris Cillizza
Sunday, August 1, 2010

Quick, name the head of the House ethics committee.

Can't do it? Don't beat yourself up too much; the ethics committee (or the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, as the stuffed shirts call it) is not only one of the least prominent committees on Capitol Hill but, if recent history is any indication, one of the most feckless, too.

But every committee has a chair, and in this case it's Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a loyal lieutenant of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a fellow California Democrat.

Lofgren's low profile is about to be ruined by the congressional trial of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) on allegations that he failed to report personal income and misused his office to aid companies to which he had ties.

No Democrat wants such a trial to happen, but Lofgren has limited options: Unless Rangel cops to the charges (unlikely) or resigns (even less likely), then she is bound to push for a trial in Congress with a September start date.

Lofgren follows a long line of lawmakers forced to investigate their own party in public. The list includes, but is not limited to, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who recommended the expulsion of Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) in the mid-1990s (Packwood resigned); Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who led the investigation into Sen. Bob Torricelli (D-N.J.) in 2002 and ultimately "severely admonished" him (Torricelli gave up his reelection bid); and Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), who presided over a similar 2004 admonishment of then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). Delay eventually resigned, but not before Hefley was ousted as committee chairman by then-Speaker Denny Hastert (R-Ill.), a DeLay ally.

In a week when tens of thousands of Washington Nationals fans went home disappointed after phenom pitcher Stephen Strasburg was scratched moments before he was to take the mound, the competition for the Worst Week was tough. But like a narc (the Fix loved "21 Jump Street" back in the day) or a hall monitor, sometimes doing your job makes you the least popular kid in school. For the foreseeable future -- or until Rangel cuts a deal, thus ending the prospect of a congressional trial -- that role will be played by Lofgren, who had the Worst Week in Washington. Congrats, or something.

Have a candidate for the Worst Week in Washington?

E-mail chris.cillizza@washingtonpost.com

with your nominees.

Can't remember who had the worst week last week?

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