Representative Bob Ney struck a deal with prosecutors in September in which he agreed to plead guilty to multiple counts of corruption. He announced he was vacating his nomination to seek re-election, and then worked to see that the GOP nominated Joy Padgett to replace him on the ballot. Not that it has done much good since Padgett is now running behind Democrat Zack Space in the polls-- voters there consider her too close to Ney.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert didn't mind letting Ney continue to serve in Congress though after he agreed to plead guilty. So why is he promising to expel Ney if he doesn't resign before Congress returns in November for the lame duck session? Yesterday's guilty plea-- for which Ney faces up to two years in prison-- is only the formality that culminates the agreement he reached with prosecutors in September. Has Hastert suddenly decided that Ney's corruption, including a $150,000 golf trip he took to Scotland with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, is now wrong, something Hastert didn't think was the case in September?
No, not exactly. I don't think Hastert has had a sudden change of mind on what is wrong and what isn't. What has changed is that it is politically damaging. At least Mark Foley had the good sense to resign. This despite the fact that Foley has not as yet been charged with a crime, and he may not be charged with a crime. In fact, Foley, had he remained in the House would probably have received a censure but been allowed to remain as long as the voters in his district let him. This was the punishment handed out to former Congressmen Gerry Studds (D-MA) and Dan Crane (R-IL) in 1983 for scandals involving pages.
Ney, however, is going to prison (maybe he will even get to share a cell with Duke Cunningham, his colleague in the present Congress.) And after the Foley resignation the questions that have been raised since September (in fact before that in many quarters) about whether Ney should remain in the house have grown louder and more annoying to Hastert. So Hastert, still under fire for allegations that he covered up key aspects of the Foley case is now willing to cast Ney overboard-- an act which he should have done last month, but to say it now only shows it as a political calculation.
For Ney, it means he may be the first congressman who will lose his Congressional pension after being expelled-- a 'reform' that Congress passed in the wake of the Cunningham scandal.
But the Republicans' problem with corruption has now moved beyond Bob Ney. It is Dennis Hastert who now has the most to lose. And if he loses his speakership it will be a good move towards cleaning the House.