Pelosi: La. Congressman Should Resign

Juan Williams discusses political news of the week with Ron Walters, professor of political science at the University of Maryland and the Rev. Joseph Watkins, a member of the government-relations group, Buchanan, Ingersoll and Rooney. This week, they talk about Senate minority leader Nancy Pelosi's recent call for the resignation of Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA).

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson faces a bribery investigation. Now House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is asking him to resign. This makes the Congressional Black Caucus and others wonder if Pelosi is influenced by factors other than ethics. Here to talk more on that issue is NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams and his panel of political strategists. Juan?

JUAN WILLIAMS: Thanks, Farai. Welcome to Political Corner. We're joined now by Ron Walters, a professor of political science at the University of Maryland. The professor's latest book is called Freedom is Not Enough. Professor Walters was a strategist in Jesse Jackson's two presidential campaigns. Also with us, Reverend Joseph Watkins. He's a member of the government relations firm at Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney. Reverend Watkins was a part of the first President Bush's White House. Gentlemen, welcome to Political Corner.

Professor RON WALTERS (Political Science, University of Maryland, Author, Freedom is Not Enough): Good to be with you, Juan.

Reverend JOSEPH WATKINS (Member, Government Relations Group, Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney): Thanks, Juan.

WILLIAMS: Let me start with the campaign being led by Representative William Jefferson, Democrat of Louisiana, to gain reelection. It appears that he is the leading candidate in that district, despite the ongoing investigation by the FBI that found $90,000 in his freezer, infamously, and a call from Nancy Pelosi - the House Minority Leader - for him to resign.

Joe Watkins, when you hear this, do you think Nancy Pelosi's overstepping her bounds by asking him to resign, given that he has not been indicted?

Rev. WATKINS: On the one hand, Nancy Pelosi came to his aid when his office was raided by federal officials. And now she's asking him to resign before he's even been indicted. Obviously, she's doing that because she realizes that as long as this cloud hangs over him, it taints him and it taints the Democratic Party and they stand a chance to lose in November.

But clearly, she has angered a lot of Democrats by making this move so quickly.

WILLIAMS: Well, what's interesting and what's pointed out as possibly a double standard by Jefferson is that she has not asked for the resignation or even a committee assignment change for Representative Allen Mollohan, a Democrat of West Virginia, who's also being investigated for possible misuse of funds.

So is there a double standard here? Is Jefferson, as an African-American, being subjected to a different level of treatment?

Rev. WATKINS: Well, that's the way it looks right now, obviously. But clearly, a lot of members, a number of members, and even the Congressional Black Caucus are saying that if Nancy Pelosi wants to stand by this kind of a decision, she's going to have to answer for that later on.

And this, again, smacks to some, I think, of the fact that Pelosi and some others may suppose that blacks are always going to vote with Democrats, that blacks are always going to be in the camp of Democrats, so they can do whatever they want with African-American elected officials. And that, I don't think, is the case anymore.

WILLIAMS: You know what interesting about this case is that the Republicans have been very supportive of Jefferson. Going back to when the FBI went into his office, remember Denny Hastert, the speaker of the House, went out of his way.

Rev. WATKINS: Absolutely.

WILLIAMS: I mean, so it's one of these things where it kind of crosses political lines because you have Nancy Pelosi taking on Jefferson, Hastert supporting Jefferson. And now you have members of the Democratic Party, especially in the Caucus - Mel Watt, Jim Clyburn, kind of leadership - taking on Pelosi, their fellow Democrat and potentially, if the Democrats were to win in November, the speaker of the House.

Prof. WALTERS: The interesting thing to me is that Nancy Pelosi has done this a second time. Because when Cynthia McKinney came back, her seniority was not restored. And a lot of people were angry about that. It looked as though it was the double standard - here again, the only black person to suffer from that.

You see, it's different from the Jefferson case. But I'm just pointing to the fact that in the past you've had this situation where people left the House or the Senate for whatever reason, came back and had their seniority restored. Cynthia McKinney's asked for it, and Nancy Pelosi said no.

WILLIAMS: Got it. And do you think that was about race?

Prof. WALTERS: I think - you know, here's one of these things. You know, sometimes you're suspicious for alleging race. But if a black person is the only person it happens to, what have you got?

Here is a situation where, for example, the FBI didn't go thundering into Foley's office and stealing - taking his, you know, his computers when, obviously, e-mail is at the center of this whole investigation.

WILLIAMS: We're talking about the investigation into Congressman Foley of Florida's alleged, you know, prurient e-mails to young men.

Prof. WALTERS: That's right.

WILLIAMS: Yeah.

Prof. WALTERS: While at the same time they go thundering into William Jefferson's office. Now, again, this hasn't happened to anyone but a black person. So if I allege that it's racial, am I wrong?

WILLIAMS: Can't say that. What do you say, Joe Watkins?

Rev. WATKINS: Well, we're not the only one that are saying it. A Congressional Black Caucus aide, who I think wanted to remain anonymous, said very pointedly that Congresswoman Pelosi - by preemption, without any legal justification -has now created a new precedent for how members are going to be treated. And in that particular case, unfortunately, he went on to say, she's chosen to single out an African-American for this honor.

WILLIAMS: So what happens, then, with the Congressional Black Caucus when it comes to, let's say, Pelosi seeking to become speaker of the House - should the Democrats win? Are they likely, therefore, not to support Pelosi?

Prof. WALTERS: I think they're unlikely to think about it, Juan. There's been some rumbling that that is something that may need to be looked at. And Nancy Pelosi has responded by saying then seniority may not be the only rule that she takes to appoint committee chairs.

Now if something happens that you don't get the requisite number of chairs lining up with seniority, all hell could break loose within the Democratic Party.

WILLIAMS: That's it for this week's Political Corner. Professor Ron Walters teaches political science at the University of Maryland. He was a strategist in Jesse Jackson's two presidential campaigns. Reverend Joseph Watkins is a member of the government relations firm at Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney, and was a part of the first President Bush's White House staff.

Gentlemen, thank you for joining us on Political Corner.

Prof. WALTERS: Thank you, Juan.

Rev. WATKINS: Thanks, Juan.

WILLIAMS: Back to you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: Thanks, Juan. Join Juan Williams and his regular panel of Washington insiders every Thursday right here on Political Corner.

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