The nearly 6-year long tenure of Speaker of the House John Boehner has been free of the taint of personal scandal. But among some in the House Republican conference, the fate of the GOP Speakers who came before him is still a painful memory.
The authority of former Speaker Newt Gingrich was undercut by ethics charges related to violations of federal tax law and providing inaccurate information to a House Committee investigating him. The man chosen to be his successor, Rep. Bob Livingston, of Louisiana, never officially took over the speakership, resigning after it was revealed that he had had an extra-marital affair.
Rep. Dennis Hastert, who replaced Livingston, faced serious criticism during his time in office, particularly over real estate deals that made him a multi-millionaire. He was able to resign on his own terms but years later would be indicted on money laundering charges as he sought to pay off a former student with whom he allegedly had an improper sexual relationship during his years as a high school teacher.
With the GOP conference preparing to hold elections to replace Boehner, who is retiring at the end of the month, as well as the rest of the leadership team, Rep. Walter Jones, a conservative Republican from North Carolina, wants to avoid any such problems in the future. And he has a plan.
In a letter to Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, he called on all candidates for leadership positions to pre-emptively disclose any “skeletons in their closet.” The letter was published by the Washington Examiner on Tuesday morning.
“In a time when confidence in Congress has reached a new low and voters across America want their elected leaders to listen to them instead of special interests, the House of Representatives and the Republican Conference in particular can take a step in that direction and elect a Speaker who will restore a transparent process to the operations of the House,” Jones wrote.
“I’ve had the pleasure of serving the third district of North Carolina for the past 20 years in Congress. Some of the most difficult times have been when our Republican leaders or potential Republican leaders must step down because of skeletons in their closets. We’ve seen it with former Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Bob Livingston, who ran for Speaker in 1998.”
Then, in a paragraph that he bolded and underlined, Jones wrote, “With all the voter distrust of Washington felt around the country, I’m asking that any candidate for Speaker of the House, majority leader, and majority whip withdraw himself from the leadership election if there are any misdeeds he has committed since joining Congress that will embarrass himself, the Republican Conference, and the House of Representatives if they become public.”
Jones went on to ask McMorris Rodgers to place his request on the agenda for discussion when the elections take place.
In a hand-written note, he added, “I believe this question is important to the integrity of the House.”
The House Republicans will vote for a new speaker Thursday, in a closed-door session. A final vote in the full House will take place at the end of the month. The new speaker, currently expected to by the current majority leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, will determine the timing of other leadership elections.