The chairman of the Senate Republican Conference said yesterday he does not expect GOP senators to strip Sen. Dave Durenberger (R-Minn.) of seniority rights or committee assignments following the Senate ethics committee's proposal Wednesday that Durenberger be denounced for unethical conduct.
Along with proposing that the Senate take formal action against Durenberger, the committee referred the case to the official organization, or caucus, of Senate Republicans for its "attention." It also referred materials accumulated in its probe to the Justice Department and Federal Election Commission for possible investigation.
While the ethics panel did not recommend any action by the GOP conference, options include stripping Durenberger of his 12 years of seniority and revoking his committee assignments, which include the powerful Finance Committee, where he serves as ranking Republican on the subcommittee dealing with Medicare.
"I have no intention of convening a conference unless anyone asks for it, and I don't believe anyone will," said Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.), chairman of the conference, which is composed of all 45 Senate Republicans.
Even if a such a meeting of the conference was called, it would not approve further sanctions against Durenberger, Chafee said. "I'm confident, I'm certain, it would be rejected," he said.
Noting the denouncement and roughly $124,000 in restitution that Durenberger would be ordered to make for book-promotion and condominium deals that the committee found to be improper, Chafee said, "I believe the punishment meted out is pretty stiff and there's no point in our going further."
Chafee said he talked with several other Republicans yesterday about whether the conference should consider further action against Durenberger, all of whom agreed with him that it should not do so.
According to Senate officials, there is no recent precedent involving action by either party conference to punish a member by deprivation of seniority or committee assignments for ethical infractions. Generally, the Senate varies less from strict seniority rules than the House, where committee chairmen are sometimes displaced even for policy reasons.
The Senate is expected to consider the proposed denouncement, which was recommended unanimously by the ethics panel, composed of three Republicans and three Democrats, before Congress recesses for a month in early August.