House Republicans plan to force a floor vote on the appointment of Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.), who is the subject of a federal bribery investigation, to a seat on the Homeland Security Committee.
The decision to put Jefferson on the panel was made by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), and House Democrats endorsed the move at a private meeting Tuesday night, but his appointment must be confirmed by a vote on the House floor. Such an action would normally be a formality, but Republicans said yesterday that they would pursue a rarely used maneuver to force a recorded vote on the matter.
"This is a terrible mistake by the Democratic leadership, to take someone with serious ethical allegations against him and put him on one of the most sensitive and important committees in Congress," said Rep. Peter T. King (N.Y.), the ranking Republican on the committee.
Pelosi ousted Jefferson from his seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee in June after federal investigators raided his Capitol Hill office. In an earlier search of his home, $90,000 was found in a freezer. The money allegedly was accepted in a bribery sting involving an African technology company. Jefferson, who has not been charged, has maintained his innocence and was elected to a ninth term in December after a runoff election.
"You gotta wonder where Jefferson's gonna store all those homeland security secrets," said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (N.C.), a deputy Republican whip. Other Republicans said Pelosi's decision contradicted her promise to create "the most ethical Congress in history." Said King: "It shows hypocrisy. Before the election, they made a big point of pulling him from Ways and Means and after the election, they put him on Homeland Security."
A spokesman for Pelosi said she opted to place Jefferson on Homeland Security because the panel oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Jefferson had been a vocal critic of FEMA's performance during Hurricane Katrina, which affected thousands of his constituents.
But his appointment must be formally approved by the House, and Republicans said they would take the rare step of challenging the vote and requiring members to record their votes so Democrats will be forced to go on the record in their support of Jefferson.
Such appointments usually are ratified on the House floor by unanimous consent.
"I have a hard time seeing how the Democrats will vote in the open to put a person with serious ethical charges against him on Homeland Security," King said. "If he was too unethical to be writing tax law, he certainly shouldn't be on Homeland Security where he has access to intelligence materials and ongoing operations. Even with FEMA, we're going to be looking into allegations of corruption related to contracting around Hurricane Katrina."
Brendan Daly, a spokesman for Pelosi, said that if Republicans follow through on their threat, they would set a "dangerous precedent. A number of their own members are under investigation," he said, referring to Republicans allegedly under scrutiny by the Justice Department.
Jefferson called the Republican criticism "politics as usual."
"Speaker Pelosi did the right thing by placing the congressional member who represents hurricane-ravaged New Orleans on this committee," he said. "My district desperately needs a voice on this panel."