ONE THING is clear about the sordid affair for which the House ethics committee has now recommended a full-dress reprimand for Rep. Barney Frank.It is that, as he himself has admitted in certain respects, Mr. Frank misbehaved.
The technical charge against him was finally that he had failed to abide by the catchall in the House rules that a member must act "at all times in a manner which shall reflect creditably on the House." The use of so vague a rule should make all members uncomfortable. More than once it has occurred to us that its serious enforcement could depopulate the House. The committee, however, ended up making narrow use of the broad rule. Mr. Frank was not formally charged on account of his private behavior, but on two counts of misusing his public office.
The less serious is that he got 33 parking tickets fixed, most of them apparently having been incurred by the male prostitute who was living with Mr. Frank and using his car. That's wrong, but normally it probably wouldn't get a formal reprimand by the full House. The other marches into graver territory -- that Mr. Frank (unsuccessfully) invoked his office on behalf of the same live-in prostitute in a Virginia probation proceeding, in the process writing a somewhat misleading memo on House stationery.
The 12-member committee, equally divided between the parties, was stymied on how to proceed. The Democrats are said to have favored no more than a letter of reproval. Most of the Republicans wanted more. The compromise of reprimand was meant to keep control on the floor. Mr. Frank, to cut his losses, has accepted the judgment of the committee. So should the House. Some Republicans not on the committee say they will propose that he be censured (a step up from reprimand) and/or expelled. The House should vote them down.
Mr. Frank has been a useful member of Congress whose acknowledged behavior in this case was degrading and wrong. The balancing of the two should be left up to his constituents, who seem at this juncture disposed to reelect him. A vote of reprimand is no small matter; the committee has proposed punishment enough.