A Republican majority would take a "zero tolerance" policy toward ethics violations, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) pledged Wednesday.
Cantor, the second-ranking House Republican, who would likely become majority leader in a GOP-controlled House, acknowledged the ethical problems that plagued his party in the past two election cycles, and said Republicans have "learned our lesson."
"We had several members under public investigation at the time of the '06 elections," he added. "I think we've learned that that's not a good way to gain the confidence of the people, and that we ought to be instituting a zero-tolerance policy here."
Cantor alluded to the scandals that contributed to Republicans losing control of both the House and the Senate in the 2006 midterm elections. That cycle saw the rise of scandals involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff, as well as the convictions of Reps. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.). Then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) was also indicted, but was allowed to keep his leadership position after House Republicans voted to waive rules requiring him to step down.
Democrats challenged Cantor to explain whether this standard applies to current House members.
"How would Cantor apply this “zero-tolerance” policy to such ethically challenged House Republicans like Jerry Lewis, Gary Miller, Don Young, Pete Sessions, and Sam Graves?" asked Ryan Rudominer, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). "It’s easy to have a zero tolerance policy when you’re not enforcing the rules or going around the Ethics Committee like John Boehner who has held secret meetings throughout the year with his many unethical members.”
Ethical difficulties are now troubling Democrats heading into this fall's elections. Senior Reps. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) face ethics trials in September after lawmakers return to Washington, perhaps adding to Democratic woes in a cycle in which they could suffer heavy losses.
"This latest escapade and ethics scandals on the part of Charlie Rangel, Maxine Waters and others is just indicative of the fact that Nancy Pelosi has been unable or unwilling to deliver on her promise to 'drain the swamp,' to clean up this place," Cantor said of Democrats' ethics problems. "We've learned our lesson, and the Democrats have now put on display again the fact that somehow this town has made it impossible for them to deliver on their promise."
Democrats said the public ethics trials underscore the reforms they put into place in 2007 after retaking the majority.
Cantor didn't specify what he meant by a "zero-tolerance" policy, but said Democrats would pay at the polls for their ethics troubles this cycle.
Updated 12:44 p.m.