Breaking: House passes GOP demand for investigation into Massa, Dem leadership

If Nancy Pelosi hoped to put the debacle of Eric Massa behind her, she failed to do so — mainly because too many Democrats apparently sense something weird at play, too.  The House passed a GOP privileged resolution demanding an investigation into the handling of Massa’s behavior and complaints about ethics, which the Washington Post reported today had been known to House leadership for a long time:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office was notified in October by then-Rep. Eric Massa’s top aide of concerns about the New York Democrat’s behavior, two congressional sources familiar with the matter said Wednesday night. …

Republicans signaled Wednesday that they wanted the inquiry to continue, despite Massa’s departure. Senior Republicans in the House said the public deserves to know whether Democratic leaders were aware of the allegations of Massa’s misconduct longer than they have acknowledged and whether they failed to act to protect junior staffers.

GOP leaders cited as precedent the committee’s 2006 decision to investigate claims that Mark Foley, a Florida Republican, sent sexually explicit messages to former male pages. The committee’s decision came after Foley stepped down from Congress. That inquiry also examined how some House leaders ignored claims about Foley’s conduct while others tried to shield his behavior from public disclosure.

Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.) said it would be only fair for the committee to investigate how Democratic leaders handled the Massa case, given the panel’s decision in the Foley investigation.

The Hill has more:

The House voted Thursday to open an ethics investigation into what and when House Democratic leaders knew of allegations of sexual harassment against former Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.).

The House overwhelmingly backed a privileged resolution offered by GOP Leader John Boehner (Ohio) that will have the Ethics Committee look into what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and other Democratic leaders and staffers knew about allegations of sexual harassment against Massa, and when they became aware of the situation. …

After former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) resigned in 2006 after allegations that he had sent sexually explicit messages to House pages, the Ethics panel looked into what House leaders knew about Foley at the time.

Nor was that the only win for reform today.  Porkbusting activists practically begged Republicans to adopt a unilateral ban on earmarks in 2008 as a way to differentiate themselves from Democrats.  Perhaps nothing would have changed the trajectory of the 2008 campaign, but the House GOP caucus sees a very different environment for the 2010 midterms.  They have adopted the unilateral ban on pork-barrel projects for the rest of the year and now are challenging Democrats to do the same — just when Democrats need pork the most:

House Republicans today said they are banning all earmarks by their lawmakers for the rest of this year, in an effort to put pressure on Democrats who they say are using “back room deals” to buy votes for President Obama’s health care bill.

“No doubt earmarks are being talked about in a different way by the democratic majority,” said Rep. Mike Pence, the chairman of the Republican Conference, from Indiana.

Pence said Democrats were cutting “backroom deals” to persuade reluctant House Democrats to vote for the president’s proposal, and said “the American people want us to change business as usual.”

Pelosi cannot afford to eschew pork as ObamaCare struggles to survive in her caucus.  In that sense, the timing is exquisite.  Not only can Republicans use the Cornhusker Kickbacks and Louisiana Purchases against Democrats in the Senate, they’ve pre-emptively made any such deals in the House sidebar bill toxic.  Without those deals, Pelosi isn’t likely to find many converts to a deeply unpopular cause.

Let’s not kid ourselves too much here.  Republicans went along on both of these efforts for partisan purposes, hardly shocking in a midterm election year.  However, it sets a baseline for behavior in the future as well — just as the Foley decision did with Massa’s situation — and puts leadership of both parties on notice to properly address corruption and ethics issues.