Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) has been named chairman of the House ethics committee, replacing Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) in the high-profile post. The decision, made by Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), was ratified by the House GOP Conference on Wednesday morning.
Hastert selected a total of three new members for the committee, Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Melissa Hart (R-Pa.). They replace Reps. Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.) and Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio). Smith is a former chairman of the panel and had been rumored to be a possible replacement for Hefley, while Cole and Hart are serving on the committee for the first time.
“This really is a ‘regular order’ decision,” said Hastert spokesman John Feehery. “Chairman Hefley’s time was up on the committee and the No. 2 is taking his spot.”
In a statement released by his office, Hastings acknowledged his own concerns about taking over the ethics committee, but vowed to approach the position in a non-partisan manner.
“The American people have every right to insist on the highest ethical standards here in the people’s House,” Hastings said. “There is no more difficult assignment than to sit in judgment of one’s colleagues.”
Hastings added: “I didn’t seek this appointment, but I’m honored by it and will do my best to carry out my duties fairly, with utmost respect for this institution — and without regard to friendship, favor, or political party.”
Hastings was tapped for the position after Hefley attracted widespread criticism within GOP circles for his handling of an ethics complaint filed against Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) in the 108th Congress. DeLay was admonished by the committee in two different cases late last year, and top Republicans believed Hefley was too accommodating to Democrats and government watchdog groups during those investigations.
Hefley also faced problems with House rules as to whether he could serve another term as ethics chairman. The House Parliamentarian has ruled that Hefley was ineligible to serve another term as chairman, although Hefley still believed he could reappointed by Hastert if the Speaker sought a waiver from the full House.
Hastings had been considered one of the frontrunners for the ethics post once it became clear that Hastert was searching for someone to take the gavel from Hefley. Hastings is also a senior member of the Rules Committee, and some GOP insiders have speculated that Hastings will serve one term as ethics chairman and then, as a reward for taking on the unpleasant duty, be given the gavel at Rules in the 110th Congress.