House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., met privately Wednesday with embattled Rep. Michael G. Grimm, R-N.Y., but details were scarce after the discussion as Republican leaders looked to defuse another scandal before the fall elections.
House GOP leaders have said Grimm, facing fraud and tax charges in New York, made the right decision in stepping down from his committee seat on Tuesday, but have held back — so far — on calling for his resignation from Congress.
Some members, speaking with CQ Roll Call on condition of anonymity, indicated it’s too early in the process to expect Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio — who was out Wednesday for what staff called “minor unscheduled surgery” on his back — to drop the hammer on Grimm.
The scandal — and speculation about how party leaders would respond — has been the subject of cloakroom chatter since the House reconvened Monday after a two-week recess But official reaction from Boehner’s team has been muted.
That wasn’t the case for troubled Louisiana congressman Vance McAllister, caught on camera earlier in April kissing a married staffer. After more than a week of embarrassing headlines and high-profile calls for the Republican’s head, Cantor on Tuesday bluntly told the congressman it’s time to resign.
McAllister rebuffed Cantor, saying he plans to serve out his term before calling it quits.
Another former colleague who got into trouble this year, Trey Radel, R-Fla., was ultimately compelled to resign after he was caught buying cocaine.
A Cantor aide confirmed Wednesday’s meeting with Grimm, but declined to go into details, referring instead to the leader’s comments from a day earlier.
“He’s going to have to make his case to his constituents and make his case in court,” Cantor told reporters Tuesday evening.
Boehner’s comments on Grimm have been low-key as well. On Tuesday he told the press, “I think all members should be held to the highest ethical standards.”
Boehner added that Grimm had already agreed to give up his committee assignment on Financial Services, which, the speaker said, was “the right decision.”
Democrats have accused the Republicans of having a double standard on the scandals.
“I find it ironic that McAllister had an inappropriate embrace and they broomed him out,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel, D-N.Y., told CQ Roll Call. “Michael Grimm has a 20-count indictment and they’re taking it day by day. I do think there’s a bit of hypocrisy there.
Some House Republicans say it’s unfair to lump the scandals together: After all, McAllister’s transgression was caught on tape, and Grimm hasn’t had his day in court.
“I think that there’s no ambiguity about what McAllister did, and Michael Grimm has claimed innocence,” said Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam, R-Ill.
Alabama’s Mo Brooks, a conservative lawmaker who has openly clashed with the leadership on several fronts, most notably immigration, said that when it comes to handling the two recent scandals, leadership is probably doing all it can.
“McAllister and Grimm are night and day,” he cautioned. “In one case, you know all the evidence, it’s right there on the Internet.”
Boehner, who has articulated a “zero-tolerance” policy for conduct that could reflect poorly on the institution, has a history of aggressive action on members accused of misdoings.
In 2008, Boehner, then minority leader, asked former Arizona Republican Rep. Rick Renzi, who also faced criminal fraud charges, to “seriously consider whether he can continue to effectively represent his constituents under these circumstances.”
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Boehner’s position hasn’t changed.
“Boehner has always said that the American people should expect the highest ethical standards from their elected representatives,” Steel said. “Rep. Grimm has stepped down from his committee, and the speaker believes that was the right thing to do.”
Ultimately, whether leadership is forced to take a more punitive stance on Grimm could come down to whether he becomes even more of a political liability than he already is, given that he hails from a swing district that was already being heavily targeted by the DCCC prior to Monday’s indictment.
The National Republican Campaign Committee has so far been noncommittal about what it will do in terms of continuing to support Grimm’s re-election campaign, especially since Grimm can use donations to pay some of his legal fees.
As for the National Republican Congressional Committee, its primary mission is to serve as an incumbent protection program. It’s a tricky position for the organization to publicly cut off a member financially, especially when there are not any calls for his resignation. So far the NRCC is issuing only vague statements.
Grimm represents a highly competitive seat that switched parties several times over the last 10 years. His rival, former New York City Councilman Domenic M. Recchia Jr., is a top House Democratic recruit and a strong fundraiser.
The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call this week changed its rating of the Staten Island and Brooklyn-based 11th District from Leans Republican to Leans Democrat. The race is Democrats’ best opportunity to defeat a Republican incumbent this cycle.
Still, given their 17-seat advantage in the House, Republicans have room to lose seats.
Israel however, suggested Republicans need to put some distance between themselves and Grimm.
“First of all, what they should do is take back any money that they gave him and give back money that he gave them, because essentially they’re funding his legal defense fund,” Israel opined. “I’m not sure if I was a Republican candidate, I’d want my party to fund somebody’s legal defense fund.”
Abby Livingston, Matt Fuller and David Eldridge contributed to this report.