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Hypocrisy behind reaction to Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase

Ever since it happened, it’s been reasonable to believe that government managing of the aftermath of Louisiana’s 2005 hurricane disasters would be the biggest contribution the state made to the issues resolving the 2006 federal midterm elections. Instead, it could be the actions taken over the issue of Jefferson’s second Louisiana Purchase.

Obviously, this incident refers not to the third president of the U.S. but to the state’s Second Congressional District member William Jefferson, a Democrat the evidence against steadily mounts indicating an extended pattern of his corruption while in office. This has thrown a wrench into the lurid, contrafactual plans of Democrats to try to paint Republicans as institutionally corrupt for use as a campaign issue.

This has lead the Democrat House leadership, in a fit of simulated outrage, to demand his resignation from his one committee assignment, from perhaps the most important committee in the chamber, Ways and Means. But he has declined, and its attitude in response has been. “All right, we tried but it didn’t work, so let’s move along now, nothing more to be seen here.”

But this represents an unserious attempt to enforce standards: all the House Democrat leadership would have to do is to convene the party’s Policy and Steering Committee (controlled by the leadership), then its Caucus (comprised of all elected Democrats in the House), and to have the former strip Jefferson of his seat with the latter confirming that decision. If Democrats really meant what they requested of Jefferson, this easily could be done. Of course, they don’t do it because they don’t really mean it.

However, House Republicans are making it easy for Democrats to slouch away from the spotlight of the negative publicity of the incident not only by having their leader Speaker Denny Hastert complain about the recent federal government fact-finding search of Jefferson’s Washington office, but then to have the poor sense to launch not one, not two, but three planned hearings by their majority party on the entire enterprise. They base these hearings on some derivation of a constitutional question (the search having separation of powers implications), but then conveniently seem to forget other passages of the Constitution much more direct and relevant to the incident.

First, does Congress not remember that it has an almost total (except for executive privilege) power to compel information from the executive branch? Article I Section 7, in giving Congress the power to legislate, infers the power to investigate. In other words, in holding these hearings Congress is suggesting it has a much broader right to investigate the executive branch or anything else than the executive branch has in performing the duties Congress laid out for it when members of Congress themselves are involved – a self-exemption of the crassest kind.

Second, this does not square with the contents of the previous Section 6, which outlines Congressional immunity only (except in cases of “Felony, Treason, of Breach of the Peace”) “from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.” This says nothing about investigations, so there is no direct Constitutional protection involved – only a legal one that the House seems to think it could put in there to shield its own members.

So when House Republicans are saying they would rather spend their time and resources on investigating an open-and-shut Constitutional question than on pressing national problems, they open themselves up to charges that they are almost as concerned with trying to preserve power for power’s sake as the Democrats are in trying to avoid being labeled the party of congressional corruption by their meaningless actions concerning Jefferson. Both tactics give off the scent of hypocrisy.

Which party gets hurt worse at the ballot box as a result of this at this time is unknown, but none of this is in the interest of the public from which that electorate comes.

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