The William Jefferson Chronicles

Jefferson calls Democratic caucus' decision 'unprecedented and unfair'
09:14 PM CDT on Thursday, June 15, 2006

The following is a statement made by Congressman William Jefferson responding to the House Democratic vote to suspend him from the House Ways and Means committee:

"Tonight, a motion to suspend me, temporarily, from my position on the House Ways and Means Committee passed in the Democratic Caucus. I stand firm in my position that this move is unprecedented, unfair in process and most importantly, it unjustly punishes my constituents.

My first priority is to my constituents and will always be so. Unfortunately, Minority Leader Pelosi want so badly to win leadership in the House that she has persuaded the Caucus to sacrifice my constituents - who, after Katrina, need my leadership on my committee more than ever.

I, too, share the desire of the Caucus to win leadership in the House. That is why I offered Leader Pelosi an opportunity to make this fair and just for me and my constituents.

Yesterday, I wrote her a letter stating that while I disagree with the unprecedented and unfair nature of her request for me to step down, I would do so on two conditions:

1) the Caucus institute an across the board rule that any Member being investigated may be asked to step down from an exclusive Committee, regardless of whether charges are filed; and,

2) that Mr. Charlie Melancon, whose district borders mine in Louisiana, be my replacement on the Committee until my return. Today, at approximately 4:30 p.m., Ms. Pelosi politely declined my offer. So, it was her decision to expose the rift in this Caucus and to move forward with this unjust action. While disappointed, I accept tonight's outcome and look forward to continuing to work as hard as I can to represent the wonderful people of my district."

The following letter was sent by Congressman William Jefferson to Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi:

Dear Leader Pelosi,

Last week's actions against me by the steering committee, at your request, and the subsequent aborted attempt to rush me off the Ways and Means Committee through a Democratic Caucus process not in accordance with the pertinent rules, has caused my constituents, my family, and me unbelievable and unnecessary anguish. As a party, our people disproportionately face challenges with the legal system, and, thus, as a party, we have always championed notions of fairness, due process, and the observance of time-honored tenets; such as the presumption of innocence. These ideals are not just niceties to be mouthed or recited, but deserve to be accorded real meaning through our daily observances of them, no matter how tempting it might be to do otherwise and whatever the high cause to justify ignoring them.

In spite of it all, however, I am still a Democrat and am concerned about the aspirations of my party to succeed. At Steering, I made three (3) principal arguments, which fall under the headings below. I herein propose a way to deal with each of them. Therefore, I am herewith making the following offer to you, and, through you, to our Democratic Caucus members to resolve the current dispute over my continuing membership on the Ways and Means Committee.

1. Precedent. I have pointed out, ad nauseum, that no precedent exists for the resignation of a member from any committee of the Congress, based on news reports and allegations from third parties, or even where the member is under indictment. While I think it is a very bad idea to go down the road of questioning the capacity of a member to serve on a committee in Congress while that member challenges accusations of wrong-doing against him or her, nonetheless, I am willing to abandon this point for the sake of peace and unity.

2. Fairness/Non-Discrimination. As an African American, it is impossible to relent on this principle. It must always be observed by our party, in actuality and in appearance. When an African American member of an exclusive committee is asked to resign his committee because of news reports or allegations of wrong-doing, it gives the appearance of unfairness and even racial discrimination if another member continues serving on an exclusive committee under Justice Department investigation as well, particularly if the other member is white, and is not subject to the same treatment.

Thus, I will take temporary leave of my Ways and Means seat, pending my clearing up criminal investigations and allegations against me, based on your request if any other member on an exclusive committee, whose actions are also under federal criminal investigation so takes leave under your request as well. A bright line rule must be established. One cannot get into making distinctions about the merits of Case A v. Case B, for example, because there is no way to truly ascertain the merits of a case without a trial or a closure of the matter by the investigating authority.

3. Covering My State's and My District's Interest. Since Katrina struck, I have been very active and successful in the development and enactment of policy for the recovery of my area - from tax relief, unemployment assistance, extending health programs, welfare assistance, to the availability of federal funds for long and short term recovery projects. My position on the Ways and Means Committee has been critical to my district and state in the success we have realized in these vital areas. In order to ensure that Louisiana and my district receive the attention they deserve at this critical juncture, I recommend that Charlie Melancon of my state be temporarily appointed as a placeholder for me, on the Ways and Means Committee. I have spoken to Charlie on this matter and he is agreeable to serve on a temporary basis. I have also spoken to Mr. Rangel and to Mr. Tanner about this idea, to which they interpose no objection. Charlie Melancon and I have adjoining districts that suffered similar damage, and he and I have a strong working relationship.

To conclude, if we can agree on handling numbers 2, and 3 in the manner that I have suggested in this letter, then, the dispute in which we are now engaged regarding my service on the Ways and Means committee is ended without the need for further distress, debate, discussion or divisiveness.

I look forward to hearing from you.


William J. Jefferson

Member of Congress

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