House Democrats, insistent that they will hold lawmakers to higher standards, decided Tuesday that Rep. William Jefferson will not return to an influential committee until a federal corruption investigation involving him is completed.
Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi said the Democratic Steering Committee had resolved that Jefferson, who last Saturday won a runoff election in his New Orleans district, will not be given back his spot on the Ways and Means Committee, the panel that determines tax and trade policies.
The Steering Committee also announced new panel assignments for the next session. The full Democratic Caucus must still vote on those decisions.
Jefferson case an early Pelsoi challenge
At Pelosi's urging, the House last June stripped Jefferson of his committee assignment because of the corruption investigation that included an FBI document asserting that agents had found $90,000 in bribe money in the Louisiana Democrat's freezer.
Pelosi has promised to make lobbying and ethics reform a top priority when she becomes speaker next month, and the Jefferson case has been cited as an early challenge.
Jefferson, the first black member of Congress from Louisiana since Reconstruction, has denied any wrongdoing, and has not been charged with any crime. The Congressional Black Caucus has questioned the idea of punishing him before his legal case has been settled.
While depriving Jefferson of his committee assignment, the Democrats have been mum about another member of the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. James McDermott, who on Monday was admonished by the House ethics committee for violating ethics standards by giving reporters access to an illegally taped telephone call involving Republican leaders a decade ago.
More challenges to come
Pelosi must also make a decision about Rep. Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, who is in line to become chairman of an Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the FBI. Mollohan faces questions about personal business deals.
Jefferson also holds a seat on the House Budget Committee. It was unclear if he would retain that seat in the next Congress.
Jefferson, an eight-term incumbent, handily defeated his Democratic opponent in a runoff election despite the controversy over the federal investigation. He was accused of taking bribes from a company seeking contracts in the Nigerian telecommunications market.
After his victory speech Saturday night, Jefferson said: "I don't try to second-guess Ms. Pelosi. I don't go there to work for anyone, I go there to work with the people down here."