A congressional panel charged Rep. Maxine Waters with ethics violations Monday, raising the possibility that two Democratic lawmakers will be defending themselves in ethics trials during midterm campaigns this fall.
The trials pose a problem to Democrats, but not the ones you might think. Both Waters, of California, and Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, the other accused lawmaker, have a firm hold on their seats despite the allegations. The two veteran legislators plan to aggressively defend themselves. Waters, in a defiant statement today, even questioned the fairness of the House’s entire process for investigating ethics violations. The real problem is for Democrats elsewhere. The trials raise the specter of congressional corruption at a time when the majority is also trying to overcome stubborn unemployment numbers, questions about the success of the war in Afghanistan, and the historical fact that midterm elections do not usually favor the party in power. As Waters and Rangel defend their legacies, they also keep their respective scandals in the headlines.
Both Democrats could settle before a trial and accept some form of discipline, “an outcome privately encouraged by some party leaders,” The New York Times reports. Publicly, at least two Democratic congressmen have suggested Rangel should resign.
But Republican messaging on the ethics issue may have to be more guarded than one might expect. As Paul Krugman noted Sunday on ABC, Republican Sen. John Ensign is facing an investigation into allegations that he violated federal law by steering lobbying clients to a former aide (Ensign has also admitted to having an affair with the aide’s wife). The GOP will do well to remember that neither party has a monopoly on charges of corruption.