Nancy Pelosi’s Sister Souljah Moment?

The title gives the post away. Apparently, the Congressional Black Caucus is in open revolt against Nancy Pelosi for insisting that Rep. William Jefferson give up his seat on the House Ways and Means Committee. The Hill quotes one staffer of a CBC member as threatening, “I hope she likes being minority leader.”

But is that true?

What, in fact, would be the poltiical fallout of a publicized war in which Pelosi stands up to the CBC and demands that Jefferson quit his position? I’m not persuaded that it wouldn’t redound to the Dems’ benefit. Rangel seems to be a pretty good fundraiser (and if he’s the ranking member on Ways and Means, he should be), but I’m skeptical as to whether other CBC members are that critical to the nationwide Democratic race as a whole. The meme could be, “Oh, those divided Democrats”–but it could also be “Nancy Pelosi stands up to the CBC and the entrenched old-line Dems.”

The CBC has something of an argument when it points out that Pelosi did not take such action in the case of Rep. Allan Mollohan of West Virignia, the ethic committee ranking member who is under investigation for improprieties regarding earmarks–although from my very incomplete knowledge of that case, it seems far less serious than Jefferson’s.

At this stage, though, I’m just asking about the politics: Is there a reason to believe that this couldn’t work out quite well for the Democrats?

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

25 thoughts on “Nancy Pelosi’s Sister Souljah Moment?”

  1. It's not just that Mollohan's case is less serious — it's that the evidence is so damning for Jefferson. As Kevin Drum said, "Dude. They've got videotape. It's time to resign." How exactly does the CBC think Jefferson's going to survive this?
    Yes, it's certainly possible that Jefferson was investigated differently because of who he was, but that's not a defense to the charges. I guess they're going to try playing it like the Marion Barry case, dragging the integrity and credibility of the party through the mud. If anyone's endangering the chances of Democrats' retaking the House in this situation, it's the CBC.

  2. The Congressional Black Caucus has 40 members in the House, making up fully a fifth of the 201-member Democratic caucus.

  3. Also, Pelosi did ask Mollohan to resign his Ethics Committee seat, which he did. Mollohan is still on the Appropriations Committee, but so is Tom Delay, and the House Majority Leader has said Mollohan should not have to quit his Appropriations seat.

  4. Problem is, the Dems need every vote they can get this fall; they do not need the black grapevine to communicate that the Dems are bad to the black man.
    Pelosi's in a pickle here, and it's a damn shame that the CBC isn't pressuring Jefferson to step down.

  5. Is there a reason to believe that this couldn't work out quite well for the Democrats?
    Given historical trends, I'm sure the Dems will find some way to turn this into a huge loss.

  6. Is there a reason to believe that this couldn't work out quite well for the Democrats?
    I don't know if it will work out well, but tolerating Jefferson's activities will certainly work out badly.
    Corruption is a big issue. But why will swing voters support Democrats if they think that it will just substitute one gang for another?

  7. It's always interesting to hear the guilty verdict read before the accused has his day in court.
    Even before an indictment has been issued.
    The prosecution probably released their side of the Jefferson story because they have a weak legal case. For anyone with a memory longer than a mayfly, this was done to Clinton in Whitewater/Madison Guaranty. Ken Starr's office tried to prosecute Clinton through the McDougal
    case. In the end, the courtroom process exposed the hollowness of his case and he was forced to declare to the jury that Clinton was innocent in order to convict the McDougals.
    And, yes, the prosecution's evidence seemed just as damning as the Jefferson videotape. They just left out a few relevant facts.
    Politically, Pelosi does have a serious problem. She failed to defend Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, who (depending on who you believe) is either
    – a pushy, arrogant woman who doesn't understand how vital the Capitol Police are to protecting our Congress *or*
    – one of the few Bush opponents the family fears, whose previous complaints about harassment by Capitol Police have been found valid, who was on record months before the episode as complaining about unreasonable stops (which matter when you are rushing from committee room to lunch to voting), and who had joined the African American members of the Capitol Police in complaining about very open racism by the leadership of the Capitol Police.
    So, we have two African American Democrats who are in legal straits. Both say they are innocent. Neither has been indicted. The Democratic leadership has not provided any cover to their members. And this despite the fact that *all* of the top Republican leadership is under investigation or indicted or in jail.
    How would one guess this is playing among African Americans? I can tell you the treatment of McKinney played very badly among people I know.
    Finally, one can't separate the politics from the Constitutional law. If the FBI gets away with this, the Congress will forever more be afraid of the Executive. Aren't they spineless enough already, without turning the FBI into a tool of the Unitary Executive?
    I believe that's why the FBI chose to do the search personally, rather than respecting the protocol.

  8. The sistah soljah moment remark says it all. Who is supposed to be thrilled and delighted to see Pelosi stand up to uppity blacks? The racist former dems who fled to the republican party when the southern strategy began to take effect? I seriously doubt that is going to lure them back. The very idea that the CBC is the enemy is disgusting. I salute Pelosi for doing what she has to do as minority leader to protect brand democrat and if the CBC has any brains they will likewise throw jefferson under a bus and work to get another african american into that seat pronto. Instead of identifying themselves with him let them cast him out themselves pre-emptively. That's the smart strategy for everyone to take. But it won't affect the racist vote one way or another, Bush has that sewn up for the next few election cycles.

  9. Charles, I don't believe either of the two versions of McKinney you describe, though I'm closer to believing the second (I don't buy that Bush fears her, though). She and the Capitol police apparently have an ongoing feud, and the decision to literally make a federal case of it is insane and clearly politically motivated — yet another distraction cooked to up suggest misbehavior by Democrats.
    But I'm not buying that the videotape of Jefferson accepting a bribe can somehow be explained or excused. Is he going to claim he was entrapped? Would that somehow make it okay that he took the money? Or perhaps the Republicans hired a Hollywood special effects crew to fake the videotape? If Jefferson cares at all about the Democratic Party and his own constituents, he needs to step down and take care of his own problems.
    When you're caught red-handed, it's time to admit the truth and face the consequences of your actions, not act like a Republican and drag things out, muddying all the people who end up supporting you in the process. And if Jefferson won't do the right thing, the CBC should preserve its own integrity and not allow him to slime the whole group.

  10. I think it would help the Democrats. Here in VA, a lot of people are very fed up with the Republicans obvious corruption, but do not see the Democrats as better. Our shining example of the Democrats is the Richmond City administration, which has been lunatically corrupt (open bribe-taking, no-work contracts to relatives, embezzling money from clients, stealing canteen funds from the city jail); if Democrats want to run against the corrupt Republicans, there needs to be some evidence that they will be less corrupt.

  11. Pelosi and the CBC need to make this about honesty, not race. If Jefferson steps down, it is 99% certain that his replacement will also be African-American because of the demographics of that district. You don't have to be against African-American political power to be opposed to representatives who stash $90,000 in their freezer.

  12. KCinDC says, "But I'm not buying that the videotape of Jefferson accepting a bribe can somehow be explained or excused. Is he going to claim he was entrapped? Would that somehow make it okay that he took the money? Or perhaps the Republicans hired a Hollywood special effects crew to fake the videotape? "
    Have you ever seen the movie "12 Angry Men," KC?
    It illustrates how vital is context to the most seemingly obvious bits of evidence.
    I don't defend Jefferson because I simply don't know enough about the case– despite having read a great deal. He sure *sounds* like he's guilty as sin.
    But let's hear his side before announcing our verdict.
    When we judge ahead of the facts, we only condemn ourselves as people who don't really believe in the rule of law.

  13. As noted above (but only once) Mollohan has already resigned from the ethics committee.
    Charles. What to McKinney and Jefferson have in common but their race ? Why did the analogy come to your mind ?
    On Jefferson recall that money with serial numbers matching that handed to him on video was found in his freazer months ago. Also he has been accused in two guilty pleas by people who claim to have bribed him.
    Standards for judging politicians are not and must not be similar to standards of criminal trials. Polticians are and should be judged in the press. They do not have the right to committee appointments or re-election (nor to a helicopter to evacuate their bellongings while some of their constituents were trapped on rooftops). The publicly available evidence is overwhelming.
    I find the reaction of the CBC appalling, dismaying and very surprising. I would never have guessed that so many congressmen would stand up for Jefferson. On the main point I agree with Jonathan Zasloff that toughness on Democratic corruption and telling the CBC that their nonsense is nonsense are both winning strategies as well as the right thing to do.

  14. Good for Pelosi! You coudnt have had the Contract with America and the class of '94 without the racial gerrymandering of '92 hence the enlarged position of the CBC relative to the rest of the Democratic party. This situation makes the case for computerized or third party decennial redistricting.

  15. Charles,
    you are right about the presumption of innocence regarding a person brought up on criminal charges.
    However, committee assignments do not carry the same standard, nor should they. Mollohon resigned his ethics seat while his case is investigated. In only makes sense that Jefferson do the same.
    BTW- If you are telling me the CBC will forfeit potentially having 5 committee chairman if the dems take the house over this Jefferson's committee assignment, they be the most principled politicians of all time. They won't.
    Jefferson will resign his committee membership within the next 10 days.

  16. Ignore the political strategy for just a moment. Let's talk about right and wrong! Let's talk about corruption as the worst possible abuse of the public trust!
    Let's even talk about the fifth tranche of the eight circle of Hell, where corrupt public servants are submerged in boiling pitch for all eternity!*

    *(I'm not particularly religious, but Dante's Inferno undeniably has it's highlights. For example, reviewing it made hearing about the Enron verdict much more satisfying.)

  17. Oh! So the FBI has it on film? Well, that makes it true. Uh huh. Funny how whites hate the FBI in SOME cases, and know they lie and make up things. But other times, they love the FBI, apparantly when a black man they don't like anyway, is involved.
    I have no clue whether this man is guilty or not. BUT I know for a FACT that screaming that he had a lot of money in his FREEZER (nice story, FBI!) is something you do NOT know.
    Main question: IF he really DID have the money in his freezer, and the FBI has this great evidence, WHY did they need to search his office? Over a YEAR later. Hmmmm?
    You have to THINK and NOT be fooled by obvious stories they gin up to get you upset.
    And — to demand he resign his post even BEFORE he is even charged? What is wrong with you?

  18. If Jefferson was a target of a sting operation, I wonder who the other targets might have been? Was this an ABSCAM type operation or specifically pointed at Jefferson… or only Democrats?

  19. Where's Congressman Jim Clyburn on this? He is the man who can solve this right now. He was the Chairman of the CBC and now he's Pelosi's right arm man as the Chairman of the Democratic Caucus. He need to get Pelosi's back on this. He can do it if he wants to do it. Screw Jefferson! I am so angry with this guy! He may have singlehandedly handed the Congress back to the Republicans for another term. Ths leadership HAS to strongly denounce this corrupt hijacker. Poor New Orleans! You deserve better. Recall Jefferson!

  20. "So the FBI has it on film? Well, that makes it true," Shell5960v said with mocking sarcasm.
    "ummm. . . yeah, it kind of does," emcee fleshy replied.

  21. How about doing what is right instead of wasting so much energy trying to do what works. You Dems are stupid. That is why you will never return to power. CBC, CHC should all jump ship and go independant.

  22. Robert Waldmann asks, "Charles. What to McKinney and Jefferson have in common but their race ? Why did the analogy come to your mind ?"
    It's no analogy, and it has nothing to do with race. Both are the *only* members of Congress I have ever heard of being accosted/searched inside the halls of Congress.
    Actually, that's not quite true. Mel Watt said he was also accosted in the same manner McKinney was.
    Think about it: was Duke Cunningham marched out of his office in handcuffs? Tom DeLay? What other member of Congress can you name that has had the police lay their hands on the member or their effects while in Congress?
    Robert Waldmann adds, "Standards for judging politicians are not and must not be similar to standards of criminal trials."
    You are blurring two things: voting and criminal procedure. Every person is supposed to be the same under the law, rich and poor, powerful and powerless. Too often we see the poor and powerless mistreated. But by advocating that someone rich and powerful be treated unjustly, we would simply be making two wrongs.
    Robert Waldmann, "I find the reaction of the CBC appalling, dismaying and very surprising."
    Is it possible that they know something that if you knew it, you'd understand?
    Exhuming McCarthy says, "you are right about the presumption of innocence regarding a person brought up on criminal charges.However, committee assignments do not carry the same standard, nor should they."
    I agree with this completely. However, as a practical matter, if Jefferson steps down or is removed, it will be regarded as an admission of guilt. If he is innocent and he steps down, he would be making a mistake.

  23. It's a huge win for Pelosi. The CBC hasn't got a leg to stand on. The only reason they're getting behind Jefferson is because he's black, which is racism. If it was a white Democrat (s)he'd be almost universally abandoned and for good reason. If we're at all serious about running as the clean alternative to the Republicans, ditching this guy is imperative.
    In order for mainstream Americans to trust Democrats again it's vital that they not cave into undue pressure from the identity politics crowd. The identity politics crowd has been a huge, noisy albatross that has alienated us from voters we need to win elections for too long.
    And, BTW, I'm for affirmative action.
    Now, if we could only get rid of Al Sharpton (whose presidential campaign was, believe it or not, financed and orchestrated by Republicans).

  24. can you be serious?
    what about this situation could "work out quite well for the democrats"?
    Pelosi is a laughing-stock to republicans and democrats alike. whatever 'political capital' she once had is now worthless (and no thanks to infighting such as this nonsense).
    are you asking dems and independents to rally around the skewering of a man (and a democrat by the way) who has not seen his day in court, when GUTLESS, INARTICULATE democrats such as pelosi have failed to show any efficacy or urgency whatsoever in TENS of SERIOUS cases of high crime and corruption originating in the White House and republican-controlled Congress?
    If the man is guilty, that's BAD. For you (or anyone) to act as judge and jury before his trial, and claim that Nancy Pelosi can be made heroine for denouncing him – IN ADVANCE – is even WORSE.
    This party is in a sad, sad state. You are much easier to defeat than any opposing party could wish for, I'm afraid.
    Grow a pair! You've waited years for the handful of white men who've been convicted (without the vigorous and unconstitutional help of the FBI), and you have many years yet to sit vainly at your keyboard waiting for the rest. I suppose that if you continue eating your own guts in anguish, the republicans can keep this game up for a good long while.
    Does it REALLY still come down to BLACK and WHITE? HOORAY! Now it can be said that The Decider is also The Divider. Forget all your liberal-talk. kick off your shoes and enjoy your stay in Bush World. Nancy is.

  25. btw BRAINTREE, what's AFFIRMATIVE ACTION got to do with this thread?
    is this like "my best friend is black"?
    (now i remember why i swing indy …)
    TAKE NOTE: the people whose votes you seek don't give a fig if nancy pelosi wins a catfight with the CBC (HER constituency, btw).
    In fact, it might be a plus for her if she managed to get along with – or even support – members of her own party who, needless to say, work hard to get & keep their seats nowadays …. CBC, DNC/Howard Dean, Feingold, San Francisco(!) … is it too much to ask for a minority leader who can be a dignified LEADer instead of a bullying squabbler?
    Or does it make you proud that HASTERT is more protective of our "UNconvicted felon's" constitutional rights than Pelosi (since obviously both think he's guilty)?
    You & Nancy are losing the support from people like ME, who see you trying too hard to rush in with hollow gestures to show trustworthiness and largesse, while spinelessly throwing your own party members under the bus whenever a real or imaginary bogeyman goes "boo!".
    but i get the point. It's not a racist thing, right?

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