May 31, 2006
Nothing makes political allies faster than a common perceived threat, and the FBI's seizure of evidence from the home of Rep. William Jefferson so frightened House Speaker Dennis Hastert that he joined with his bitter adversary (and possible successor) Nancy Pelosi in demanding that the evidence be returned on constitutional separation of powers grounds. As for the issue substance, U.Va. law professor Robert Turner debunks that argument in opinionjournal.com: "Congress is not above the law." Indeed, the Republicans in Congress made such a big deal of the president not being above the law during the impeachment debates of 1998 that you would think that would be obvious to them. (via Instapundit) There is a clear precendent for criminal investigations of members of Congress, of course: the "Abscam" sting operation of 1980. South Dakota Senator Larry Pressler was one of the only legislators who flatly refused the bribe offer. (Rep. John Murtha was another!)
In terms of the politics of this controversy, Hastert seems oblivious to the growing sense of outrage among grass-roots conservatives over reckless spending resulting from pork barrel funding measures. If members of Congress are not held accountable for crass favoritism, which often leads to outright bribery, then the majority party does not deserve to retain control of the legislature. At a moment when the prestige of the House of the Representatives is on the line as a showdown with the Senate over immigration reform approaches, his attitude is self-defeating. Let's see if Speaker Pelosi shows as much willingness to collaborate with the Republicans next year.
After many months of rumors that his continued presence was not desired by the White House, Treasury Secretary John Snow finally announced his resignation earlier this week. President Bush named Henry Paulson, chairman of Goldman Sachs, as his replacement. In past administrations, a cabinet change of this magnitude would be the occasion for heated scrutiny of what it all means for policy. Under the Bush administration, in contrast, almost no one even notices. The Washington Post recently made fun of the low-profile stature of Bush's "invisible cabinet," deriding Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson as a mere public relations face with no significant policy input. This parallels the criticism leveled by Bruce Bartlett, author of the stridently anti-Bush conservative book, Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy (see March 10), that White House policy-making is tightly controlled by Karl Rove with no regard for the merits of the issue beyond the likely electoral effects. I recently read that book, which is deeply troubling for the future of conservatism. What is ironic is that the cabinet agencies are diminishing in power even as their budgets soar under our Big Government "conservative" president.
At Real Clear Politics, John McIntyre writes that the Republican Party is at a "crossroads" on the immigration issue. The convergence between national interests and conservative values is so overwhelming that a successful resolution of the issue by Republican leaders should be a no-brainer. The refusal of the House and the Senate to negotiate a reasonable compromise that achieves a serious reform of the status quo is terribly short-sighted, and I dare say stupid.