Congress has none of the measures in place that other workplaces do to deal with bad behavior. There’s no HR department, so when members misbehave, there’s no one to handle it. In theory, the House and Senate ethics committees can investigate and punish members, but in practice they are reluctant to punish their colleagues, and anyway, there are few real punishments short of expulsion. Nor are there bosses. The Ryan staff meeting may seem like a weak response, but the speaker has little real control, either. (Just ask Ryan’s predecessor, John Boehner.)
Supposedly, representatives answer to voters. That only sort of works. House members have to face voters just every two years, scandals don’t always filter down to home districts, and plenty of other factors are at play: Maybe representatives are in a safe district without much fear of a partisan challenge. Maybe they have a grip on the local party and can avoid a primary challenge. And maybe voters just don’t know. Gaetz’s colleagues seem to have been all too aware of his behavior, but there was no real forum for that information to get out.
Until now. The willingness of Hill sources to dish about Gaetz and the paucity of Republicans emerging to defend him both say something about how his colleagues viewed him. (Everything is “cancel culture” until your most obnoxious colleague gets in trouble. Then he’s simply being served his just deserts.) Still, actual accountability is a distant prospect. The biggest threat to Gaetz’s political career is likely the criminal investigation, but it could easily end with no charges.