For now, indicted GOP congressman is pretending nothing's wrong

House GOP conference rules demand indicted members give up their committee assignments. Kansas' Steve Watkins, at least for now, is testing that rule.
Image: Rep Steve Watkins
Rep. Steve Watkins, R-Kan., speaks during the Problem Solvers Caucus press conference in the Capitol on Feb. 11, 2020.Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call via AP file
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By Steve Benen

House Republicans have occasionally struggled in recent years when it comes to setting ethical standards, but current GOP conference rules say that any member “indicted for a felony for which a sentence of two or more years imprisonment may be imposed, shall submit his or her resignation from any such committees to the House promptly.”

With this in mind, Rep. Steve Watkins (R-Kan.) doesn't appear to have much of a choice. As we discussed yesterday, the Republican congressman allegedly listed a UPS Store on his election documents and voter-registration form as his residential address, which led a local prosecutor to charge Watkins this week with three felonies -- interference with law enforcement by providing false information, voting without being qualified, and unlawful advance voting -- as well as a related misdemeanor.

So, the next step should be Watkins resigning from his House committee assignments, right? As Roll Call reported, the Kansan doesn't quite see it that way.

Kansas Republican Rep. Steve Watkins is not planning to resign from his committee assignments after being charged Tuesday with felony voter fraud.... “He has not and does not plan to do so,” Watkins spokesman Dylan Jones said in response to a CQ Roll Call inquiry as to whether the congressman had resigned his seats on the Foreign Affairs, Veterans’ Affairs and Education and Labor committees.

The reporting added that the criminal charges are still "subject to approval by a judge," so it's possible Watkins -- who's denied any wrongdoing -- is waiting for this additional legal step.

But it's also possible that the GOP congressman plans to pretend everything's fine, House Republican Conference rules notwithstanding.

In the last Congress, after then-Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) faced felony corruption charges, they weren't given a choice: House Republican leaders stripped them of their committee assignments. (Hunter initially resisted, before giving up.)

Whether a similar fate awaits Watkins is not yet clear -- the public only learned of his charges on Tuesday, and Capitol Hill is quiet this week -- but conference rules don't appear to offer much in the way of wiggle room.

If the Kansan is stripped of his committee assignments, it probably won't help his competitive re-election bid back home.