The GOP Cave-In

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 28, 2005; 8:27 AM

That was an unusual sight yesterday morning: Denny Hastert, holding a news conference that was carried live by cable.

Of course, the speaker of the House can talk to reporters and make news any time he wants. But how often have you seen Hastert do that? He is a classic behind-the-scenes operator, and usually so low key that most Americans probably think Tom DeLay runs the House.

Which is why we may be seeing more of the former wrestling coach from Chicago. It can't have been pleasant for Hastert to back down on the ethics rule changes that the GOP tried to impose, only to be stymied by the Dems who blocked the House ethics committee from so much as ordering paper clips.

Hastert was pretty candid. A "'member" (DeLay) was under ethics fire, the House can't investigate him because of the impasse, the press can't write about anything else, so let's go back to the old rules and get the ethics show on the road.

A rare and resounding win for the Democrats.

And what was this rule change that so angered the minority party? Simply that any House ethics committee probe would be dropped if there was a tie vote among panel members. Since the committee is always split between Rs and Ds, this meant a party-line vote could block action against your side's man-on-the-hot-seat.

This was widely seen as an effort to protect the Hammer from becoming a nail. I think that's wrong. It would have guaranteed that no Republican would have been penalized or reprimanded for ethical misconduct as long as his or her party hung tough. Same would be true for the Democrats, in fact. The rule change, in short, basically neutered the House ethics committee, never a sharp-toothed watchdog to begin with.

"Seeking to end the impasse that has paralyzed the House of Representatives' ethics process," the Los Angeles Times reports, "Speaker Dennis J. Hastert said Wednesday he was ready to 'step back' from changes that the Republican leadership had pushed through the House this year.

"Hastert, an Illinois Republican, said he would send a letter to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) on his decision. Hastert was expected to say that he had decided to rescind three rules changes Democrats have said would make it nearly impossible to launch ethics investigations. "The move was seen as a political victory for Democrats, who had vowed not to allow the ethics committee to organize unless the rules were rescinded, and a setback for Hastert, who was forced to ask Republicans to rescind rules changes he had championed."

The New York Times sees the possibility of (nuclear?) escalation:

"The vote marked another pivot in a politically charged ethics tug-of-war expected to persist in the House. Lawmakers of both parties said they expected the resolution of the standoff to lead to calls for ethics inquiries into not only Mr. DeLay but also other members, including Democratic leaders."

We're back in the talking-points business, with Raw Story obtaining a memo (at least this says House Republican Conference at the top) suggesting such rhetoric as:

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