It’s not at all common for members of Congress to resign before the end of their term, but it does happen. Sometimes a lawmaker is forced to step down for health reasons; occasionally a member will quit to take a new job elsewhere; and then there are those members who resign due to a scandal.
And to his credit, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has been pretty tough on members caught up in sordid controversies. What’s needed, however, is some clarity in the Speaker’s standards.
In May 2010, Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) confessed to an affair with a staffer. Boehner said he had to go, and almost immediately, the conservative congressman was gone.
In February 2011, Rep. Chris Lee (R-N.Y.) was caught trying to meet women through the personals section of Craigslist. Boehner showed Lee the door, and about a day later, he resigned.
In April 2014, Rep. Vance McAllister (R-La.) was filmed kissing a staffer who was not his wife. Boehner didn’t get involved too directly, but he was on board when then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) called for McAllister’s resignation.
In December 2014, Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) pleaded guilty to a felony tax evasion, but he insisted he would remain in office. A week later, Grimm met with Boehner, and within a few hours, the New York Republican announced he would step down.
All of which brings us to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).
To be sure, speaking at a white-supremacist gathering is not illegal and there are no specific ethics guidelines that prevent members of Congress from associating with radical, racist groups.
But the question for Boehner is more nuanced. Why is adultery an automatic career-ender, while palling around with white nationalists acceptable?
Why would the Speaker be more outraged by Chris Lee hitting on women online than Steve Scalise accepting a speaking invitation from a group led by a neo-Nazi?
Yes, timing matters, and Scalise wasn’t in Congress during his role at the event in 2002. But then again, Michael Grimm’s defense was that his tax evasion occurred before he was in Congress, and in that case, Boehner didn’t care about the distinction.
Can the Speaker explain exactly where he draws the lines?