“After much thought and prayer, I have made the very difficult decision to step down from Congress effective January 5th, 2015,” said pugnacious Big Apple Republican Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) in a statement released on Monday night. He informed House GOP leadership on Monday that he would resign his seat after pleading guilty to the felony charge of filing a false tax return in connection with a health food restaurant he co-owned. Grimm also admitted to hiding nearly $1 million in receipts from investigators and lying on a deposition. Despite these charges, the two-term congressman had previously maintained that he would serve in office for as long as he was able.
But Grimm had to go. Honor alone demands that someone who has confessed to willfully misleading investigators and defrauding the government cannot continue to serve as a lawmaker without having served his debt. In resigning, Grimm will hold himself to a higher standard than that to which many of his Democratic colleagues hold themselves. It is, however, hard to give him too much credit for this decision. That higher standard — one might even call it a double standard — is demanded of Republicans by a political press that enforces two sets of incongruous rules of conduct.
Grimm is already behaving in a more scrupulous manner than the odious Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) ever did. Despite serving on the House committee tasked with helping to write tax laws, a House ethics investigation found Rangel guilty of failing to pay more than $60,000 in taxes on a property he owned in the Dominican Republic.
“He was accused of failing to declare hundreds of thousands of dollars of personal assets on his financial disclosure forms, failing to pay state and federal taxes on rental income on his villa in the Dominican Republic and helping to preserve a tax loophole worth hundreds of millions of dollars for an oil company at the same time that he was seeking a $1 million contribution to the Rangel Center from a company executive,” The New York Times reported.
All is forgiven, apparently, as CNN anchor Ashleigh Banfield recently spent a segment on racial tensions seated across from Rangel agreeing fervently with everything he said and concluding by inviting him to her home for Christmas dinner. Invoking racial anxieties frequently seem to excuse Rangel for having to explain his indiscretions to members of the media.
A leaked statement from an unnamed Congressional Black Caucus member indicated that Rangel believed his investigation and subsequent House censure was linked to racism. “There’s a ‘dual standard, one for most members and one for African-Americans,’ said one member of the Congressional Black Caucus, speaking on the condition of anonymity,” Politico reported in 2010. “’This is stacked against you once an accusation is made,’ the lawmaker added. ‘You’re guilty until proven otherwise.’”
Perhaps that’s a double standard to which the late Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) might have attested. He died in office despite being the target of an FBI investigation into the officeholder’s favored tax-exempt charity slash defense contractor and a consulting firm into which he reportedly funneled funds destined to aid his friends and former colleagues. Nor did Murtha have to answer much for the allegation that earmarks he backed enriched the clients of the lobbying firm PMA Group which, Politico recounted, “showered millions of dollars in campaign contributions on their favored lawmakers” including Murtha.
“If I’m corrupt, it’s because I take care of my district,” Murtha told a local Pennsylvania paper. That’s sweet. All is forgiven.
Grimm is holding himself to a standard alien to those who backed nine-term Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA), who consented only to resign his post on the House Small Business Committee when he was charged with 16 federal corruption counts (including bribery, racketeering, money laundering, wire fraud, and obstruction of justice) in 2007. “I refuse to allow these proceedings to be politicized by House Republican leadership,” said Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH), then chair of the House ethics committee who later conceded that by even issuing a statement ahead of the investigation she was behaving in an extraordinary fashion for an ethics committee chair.
Grimm is holding himself to a far higher standard than the press will ever hold one of their own: The activist and cable news host Al Sharpton. He stands accused of having more than $4.5 million in state and federal tax liens on him and his for-profit business; balances which The New York Times revealed have grown rather than shrunk in recent years. The National Action Network, Sharpton’s organization which regularly hosts speakers like the President of the United States and the Attorney General, is accused by The Times of being “sustained for years by not paying federal payroll taxes on its employees.”
Despite allegations that he is actively avoiding his debts to the government, Sharpton remains Barack Obama’s “go-to man on race,” according to Politico. He has visited the White House on 72 occasions and has close personal ties to White House advisor Valerie Jarrett and former Director of the White House Office of Political Affairs Patrick Gaspard. And he maintains a cushy gig reading (arguably) lines off of a teleprompter on MSNBC on a nightly basis.
But Sharpton has a defense for his ethics troubles, one which the CBC deployed to great effect some years back. You guessed it: Racism. “Every time there’s a Sean Bell or a Ferguson or a Trayvon Martin, we go through my taxes,” a fatigued Sharpton lamented.
Speaking of racism, Republicans are embroiled in yet another controversy that will dominate the news cycle this week. A Washington Post investigation revealed on Monday that, in 2002, the freshly elected House Republican Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) spoke to a white nationalist convention. The appalling group which invited Scalise to speak, the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, was founded by former Louisiana state representative and Klu Klux Klan member David Duke.
Scalise claims he did not know anything about what he called the group’s “abhorrent” views, and he probably deserves the benefit of the doubt — particularly considering votes of confidence he has received from the likes of African-American Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA). But Scalise won’t get it, and every Republican knows why.
When the 114th Congress is inaugurated, the last Congress of the Obama presidency and one which will be dominated by Republican members, its mission will be derailed by the narrative that the third-ranking House GOP member once spoke before an audience of white supremacists. It is a narrative that will seriously hinder all the work the Republican Party desperately needs to do in appealing to minority voters. Scalise shouldn’t have to resign his office, but he may have to surrender his role in leadership.
Pressure is building on Scalise to do just that, but if he does he will also be holding himself to a higher standard than the one to which Democrats hold their own.
Rep. Harry Reid (D-NV) called the repentant late former Klansman Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), a Democrat who died in 2010 holding the office he had occupied since 1959, an “unusually brilliant man.”
“His story was the true embodiment of the American dream,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
“As I reflect on the full sweep of 92 years, it seems to me that his life bent toward justice,” Obama said of Byrd after his passing. “Robert Byrd possessed that quintessential American quality. That is a capacity to change, a capacity to learn, a capacity to listen, to be made more perfect.”
All is forgiven.
The media did not lean too heavily on Obama when he appointed an avowed communist, 9/11 conspiracy theorist, and open supporter of convicted cop killer Mumia Abu Jamal, Van Jones, to the position of “green jobs czar.”
Nor did the press hold the president to account after he was discovered to have sat in the racially inflammatory Rev. Jerimiah Wright’s church for 20 years. When that association was exposed in 2008, the president responded by delivering a sermon of his own on thorny and persistent issues relating to race in America.
All is forgiven.
Perhaps the media’s impulse to hold Republicans to a different standard than that to which they hold Democrats was best summed up by CNBC and New York Times reporter John Harwood. “[I]f you think ‘what about Al Sharpton?’ is a good response to David Duke, your problem is much deeper than you realize,” Harwood diagnosed.
That’s funny. I didn’t know integrity and consistency was a problem. I can see, however, how someone inclined to reinforce the intellectually bankrupt double standards above would think so.