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Mollohan Claims 80 Backers

Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) has rounded up more than 80 Democrats to co-sponsor his resolution to reverse changes to House ethics rules pushed through the chamber by the GOP leadership on the first day of the 109th Congress.

Mollohan may also try to move his resolution using a discharge petition if the Republicans refuse to hold hearings on or schedule a vote on his proposal, according to several senior House Democratic aides. Mollohan himself declined to comment on that possibility in an interview on Tuesday.

Mollohan, the ranking member of the ethics committee, would need at least 15 Republicans to sign on to a discharge petition in order to bring his resolution to the House floor. That could prove an impossible hurdle to overcome on such a high-profile, partisan issue. Any Republican who signed that petition would come under heavy pressure from the GOP leadership to withdraw his or her support.

Mollohan’s resolution has been referred to the Rules subcommittee on rules and organization of the House, which is chaired by Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) — who, as it happens, was tapped earlier this year by the GOP leadership to replace Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) as ethics chairman.

A bill or resolution must sit in committee for at least 30 legislative days before a Member can file a motion to bring it to the floor via a discharge petition. In the case of Mollohan’s resolution, this would occur sometime in late April, depending on the House calendar.

Mollohan is seeking to overturn three changes to House ethics rules adopted in early January. The first, and most important, stipulates that a majority vote is required for the ethics committee to begin an investigation if the chairman and ranking member cannot agree on a joint recommendation for disposing an ethics complaint. Under the rules in place in the 108th Congress, an investigation would automatically be initiated if the two lawmakers could not decide on how to proceed following a review that could last up to 90 days.

The other rules changes give Members enhanced ability to dispute a potential punishment following an ethics investigation, and for the first time allow lawyers to represent more than one person who appears before the committee.

Mollohan said he wanted to continue to seek additional support for his ethics resolution, and the West Virginia Democrat remains hopeful that some Republicans will back his effort. Mollohan declined to discuss whether he will offer a discharge petition if Hastings takes no action on the resolution, or if it gets bottled up in the full Rules Committee.

“I think there’s an opportunity to move this resolution in a normal legislative fashion,” Mollohan said Tuesday.

Mollohan has said he is unhappy that the GOP leadership pushed through the ethics rules changes without consulting with Democrats. The last major alterations to ethics rules were approved by the House in 1997 following lengthy debate and consultation by a bipartisan task force.

“There are a lot of Members on the majority side and the minority side who have served on the ethics committee,” Mollohan said. “I am hopeful that once [the resolution] is looked at that we may see support forming everywhere in Congress.”

Republicans believe Democrats are trying to provoke a battle over Congressional ethics to help the minority party win control of the chamber in 2006.

Democrats, for their part, see GOP ethics problems as endemic of a party that has been in power too long and has grown corrupt from abusing that power.

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