|Jefferson awaits Demos' decision|
Drama grows in fight over his seat
Thursday, June 08, 2006
By Bill Walsh
WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., will have to wait at least one more day to see whether his fellow House Democrats will attempt to eject him from the influential Ways and Means Committee amid the federal corruption probe targeting him.
The Democratic Steering Committee met behind closed doors for more than three hours Wednesday night in what a source said was a sometimes highly contentious session. The group adjourned without taking a vote on whether Jefferson should keep his coveted seat on the tax-writing panel.
Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., declined to speak to reporters afterward and her office refused comment. Pelosi and Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., have called on Jefferson to resign from the committee.
Jefferson has been under a 14-month federal investigation into allegations that he sought and received bribes to promote a business deal in western Africa. He has not been charged and has denied that he had ever sought or accepted payment for himself or his family to perform his congressional duties.
Jefferson went before his Democratic colleagues to make the case that he should stay on despite the ongoing investigation that already has yielded two guilty pleas. The congressman looked somber as he emerged from the 70-minute session, but said little. "I had a chance to explain my position on the matter," he told reporters. "We all agreed I would not discuss the discussion."
Jefferson has rebuffed calls from Pelosi and Hoyer that he quit the committee. They contend that his continued presence on the panel would make it harder for Democrats to run a fall campaign against what the party calls a "culture of corruption" tolerated by the House GOP leadership.
Jefferson has said he must keep his seat so constituents in his hurricane-ravaged New Orleans district would not face reduced influence at a time they need federal help the most. He also said that any effort to remove him from the panel would be discriminatory because other members under federal investigation, even some who have faced charges, have not been required to give up committee posts.
During the meeting with the steering committee, Jefferson got some words of support from Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, according to a source familiar with the proceedings. Jefferson had appeared before the 43-member Caucus earlier Wednesday and later expressed confidence that he has the group's backing to keep his spot on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.
If the Democratic steering committee votes to recommend Jefferson's removal from Ways and Means, the issue would be brought before the entire Democratic caucus. It would take a vote by the full House to remove him from the panel.
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Bill Walsh can be reached at email@example.com or (202) 383-7817.