- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 2, 2005


House Republicans yesterday chose Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington to be the next chairman of the House ethics committee as Speaker J. Dennis Hastert recast a panel caught up in dispute.

The House Republican Caucus, comprised of all the Republicans in the chamber, ratified Mr. Hastert’s choice to replace Rep. Joel Hefley, Colorado Republican, as chairman of the committee that twice last year issued reports rebuking Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas.

The panel’s actions regarding Mr. DeLay irritated several members of the Republican rank and file, who voiced criticism of Mr. Hefley at the time.

Mr. Hastings was next in seniority behind Mr. Hefley. Democrats so far have announced only that Rep. Alan B. Mollohan of West Virginia will return as the senior member of their party on the panel.

In addition to Mr. Hastings, the Republican committee members will include Rep. Lamar Smith, ethics chairman from 1996 to 1998 and a Texas ally of Mr. DeLay, Rep. Melissa A. Hart of Pennsylvania, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma and Rep. Judy Biggert of Illinois. Mrs. Biggert is a returning committee member.

Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican, long has signaled that he intended to appoint a new chairman. Aides have said that leaving Mr. Hefley in charge would have required a waiver of House rules because of the length of his tenure — an interpretation the Colorado lawmaker said was subject to dispute.

Lawmakers customarily are reluctant to serve on the ethics panel because it can require painful decisions about the fates of colleagues in Congress.

One official said Mr. Hastert intended to appoint other members in addition to a new chairman. The committee is comprised of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats.

Mr. Hastings, a veteran member of the panel, played a role in its investigation of Rep. Jim Traficant, Ohio Democrat, in 2002. Traficant was expelled after his conviction on federal charges of bribery and racketeering.

That case spawned virtually no partisan debate in the House.

The issue involving Mr. DeLay was a different matter.

In one case, the panel said Mr. DeLay had created the appearance of linking political donations to a legislative favor and improperly had involved the Federal Aviation Administration in a Texas political dispute.

In the other, the ethics committee chastised the leader for offering to support the House candidacy of the son of Rep. Nick Smith, Michigan Republican, in return for Mr. Smith’s vote for a Medicare prescription-drug benefit.

The panel said Mr. DeLay did not break House rules.

In a subsequent report, it rebuked Mr. DeLay’s accuser, former Rep. Chris Bell, Texas Democrat, saying he had made exaggerated misconduct accusations against the Republican leader.

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