It was eight years ago this week that House Republican leaders, confident about reclaiming the majority in the 2010 midterms, started making promises about maintaining the highest ethical standards. Virginia Republican Eric Cantor, who’d become House Majority Leader a few months later, acknowledged the GOP congressional scandals of the past, but said they wouldn’t be tolerated going forward.
“I think that as Republicans emerge as a new governing majority, it is incumbent upon us to institute a zero-tolerance policy,” Cantor said at the time, adding that when it comes to ethical transgressions, Republicans have “learned our lesson.”
So, in the wake of Rep. Chris Collins’ (R-N.Y.) arrest, is the zero-tolerance policy still in effect? In fairness, it’d be an overstatement to say House Republicans have done literally nothing in the wake of yesterday’s developments. Roll Call reported yesterday afternoon:
Speaker Paul D. Ryan has removed Rep. Chris Collins from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, following Collins indictment Wednesday on charges of insider trading and lying to authorities.
“Insider trading is a clear violation of the public trust. Until this matter is settled, Rep. Collins will no longer be serving on the House Energy and Commerce Committee,” Ryan said in a statement.
That’s not nothing, and I’m glad the House Speaker took fairly quick action, but the developments suggest there are perhaps some nuances to “zero tolerance.”
For example, despite the seriousness of the allegations, and despite the evidence of alleged wrongdoing, no one from the Republican leadership has called on Collins to resign or retire. What’s more, the party’s campaign arm has not made any kind of official announcement about ending its support for the New York Republican’s re-election campaign.
In other words, while Collins is out on bail, he remains a House Republican lawmaker in good standing, his loss of a committee seat notwithstanding.
The obvious response, which is not without merit, is that Collins hasn’t been convicted of anything. If the GOP lawmaker has his day in court, and he’s convicted, it stands to reason that Paul Ryan and his team would be pressured to take more meaningful steps.
And while I appreciate the importance of the underlying principle, I’m also reminded of the fact that House Republican leaders haven’t always had the clearest of standards. In 2014, for example, then-Rep. Vance McAllister (R-La.) was seen on video in a romantic embrace with a staffer. House GOP leaders called for his immediate resignation.
The “kissing congressman” had to go, but Chris Collins is fine?
ThinkProgress noted yesterday that a variety of other House Republicans have faced ethics questions in recent months – the list includes Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), and Duncan Hunter Jr. (R-Calif.) – and they all continue to enjoy the support of the House GOP leadership.
It’s starting to look like “zero tolerance” may not be what it used to be.