By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
No matter what the outcome of the elections next November, it is time to consider the possibility that the House of Representatives will have a new speaker in January 2011.
Having made heavy-handedness a hallmark of her leadership style, Nancy Pelosi now appears well on the way to receiving her comeuppance, if not from her fellow Democrats then from the American people. National poll after national poll shows public approval of the job Congress is doing is at near-record lows--and someone has to take the blame for that. As the Democrats do not yet appear ready to toss President Barack Obama over the side, Pelosi seems the most likely choice.
She has won herself few friends by trying--over and over--to force the House to vote on healthcare legislation a majority of Americans have said repeatedly they do not want. Rather than negotiate with the Republicans to produce a compromise, Pelosi has insisted that her Democrats go it alone, a decision that is going to cost her party dearly at the polls. A reduced majority--or a new minority--even though it would likely be more liberal than the Democrats' current majority, may not be in the mood to reward Pelosi's ineptness by handing her the gavel for another two years.
Nor has Pelosi distinguished herself in the management of the House. She came to the speakership promising to "drain the swamp" after a series of ethical embarrassments cost the GOP its majority in 2006. Only she failed here as well, trying to build a small air force for herself during the initial days of the Obama presidency and by refusing to boot New York Democrat Charlie Rangel from the chairmanship of the Committee on Ways and Means. She has also failed, apparently, to distinguish herself in the way she dealt with the ethical missteps of another New York Democrat, Eric Massa, now resigned.
Massa, as everyone now knows, resigned his seat in Congress earlier this week after allegations surfaced that he had inappropriate physical contact with members of his staff including, according to published reports, an intern. The House Ethics Committee had shut down its investigation into the matter because it felt it no longer had jurisdiction over him, given that he had resigned his seat. The House, by a vote of 402 to 1, disagreed Thursday, voting to encourage the committee to keep the investigation open--and with good reason. There is now a debate over what Pelosi knew about the allegations against Massa and when she knew it.
According to a report that appears on the Fox News website, Pelosi's aides knew that concerns about Massa's behavior existed "as far back as October."
Shades of Mark Foley. It is worth remembering that, shortly after the allegations concerning the former Florida Republican's contact with congressional pages surfaced, Pelosi accused the GOP leadership of having engaged in efforts to cover it up.
As the Palm Beach Post reported on Sept. 30, 2006, Pelosi issued a statement calling for an investigation into Foley's activities in order to determine "when Mr. Foley sent the inappropriate emails, who knew of them, whether there was a pattern of inappropriate activity by Mr. Foley with pages or former pages, when the Republican leadership was notified, and what corrective action was taken once officials learned of any improper activity."
Now that the shoe is most clearly on the other foot, it will be interesting to see how Pelosi and her fellow Democrats react. If the investigation moves ahead and reveals that Pelosi knew more about what Massa was doing than she currently lets on, she will become an almost unredeemable embarrassment to her Democratic colleagues. So much so that, even if her party does manage to maintain a much-reduced majority in Congress, it would be politically foolish for it to let her continue to preside over the House.