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Leaders to Fill Doolittle’s Approps Seat This Week

The House Republican Steering Committee is expected to meet this week to resolve the still unsettled question of who will get the Appropriations Committee seat vacated by Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.).

The lawmaker had to recuse himself from the powerful spending panel last month amid a widening federal investigation into his family’s ties with incarcerated former lobbyist Jack Abramoff after the FBI raided his Virginia home seeking records pertaining to his wife Julie’s consulting business.

While Doolittle’s removal is considered temporary, Republicans are seeking to fill the seat shortly before the annual appropriations season begins in earnest later this month.

There is no shortage of Members interested in a slot on the powerful spending panel, but at this point there is no clear favorite to replace Doolittle.

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) had been at the top of the list for an Appropriations seat until a series of media reports last year raised questions about his role in steering federal money toward California real estate in which he had a personal financial interest.

Calvert vigorously has denied any wrong-doing, and he and his supporters point to a local newspaper editorial that called it a “false alarm” and dismissed the “flimsy charges” against him.

However, complicating the matter for Calvert is the fact that the FBI pulled his financial disclosure records from 2000 to 2005 shortly after the media reports were made public in May 2006. There is little publicly known about the FBI’s interest in Calvert, or whether it has launched any formal inquiry into the lawmaker, but the mere appearance of legal or ethical impropriety likely will be enough for the Steering Committee to pass over Calvert at a time when Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other GOPers are trying to hold the Republican Conference to a higher standard.

It would not be the first time Calvert missed out — Steering opted to leave an Appropriations seat vacant instead of giving it to the Californian in June 2006 after Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) resigned from the House.

He is, however, actively pursuing a seat. “His hat is definitely in the ring,” said one House GOP aide. “It’s a California seat.” Calvert also is the state’s representative on the Steering Committee, where he has sat for the past 10 years. California is its own region on the panel, but Calvert would have to recuse himself from the deliberations in this particular matter.

Regional interests play a heavy role in exclusive committee assignments, and California lawmakers, including Appropriations ranking member Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), are unlikely to easily cede the seat to another region. Lewis also sits on the Steering Committee.

Beyond Calvert, there are no obvious second choices among California Republicans for the seat, as most other delegation members are either too junior, already a ranking member, assigned to a different exclusive committee or have ethical problems of their own.

Beyond California there are at least three lawmakers actively seeking the seat: GOP Reps. Jo Bonner (Ala.), Henry Brown (S.C.) and Joe Wilson (S.C.). Both Brown and Wilson argue that South Carolina has no GOP representation on any exclusive committee and is due for an assignment. Bonner’s bid may be complicated by the fact that there already is an Alabama Republican, Rep. Robert Aderholt, on the panel.

There also was discussion last week that if the seat did not go to California, it should at least remain in the Western region. However, there are few eligible or interested lawmakers in those states. One knowledgeable aide suggested Washington GOP Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers or Dave Reichert as potential candidates.

But McMorris Rodgers is said to be more interested in a seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee. She also is out on maternity leave. Reichert’s office had not returned a call by press time Friday.

As for Doolittle, he insisted last week that he is not considering resigning from the House.

“There is no way I am stepping down,” Doolittle said, according to McClatchy Newspapers. “I am not resigning. Absolutely not.”

Doolittle further said that he and his wife are setting up separate legal defense funds to help pay their respective legal bills. The ethics committee must approve those requests.

Doolittle has steadfastly denied any illegal involvement in Abramoff’s schemes, adding that his wife’s business was legitimate.

“We’ve certainly made every effort to be ethical and lawful in complying with the laws relative to Julie’s work,” he said. “We are utterly shocked that our government is suspecting us of committing a crime. … I cannot believe that this is how our system of justice can work in this country.”

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