By Susan Crabtree - 12/29/10 08:14 PM EST
Incoming Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has tapped Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) to be chairman of the ethics committee in the GOP-led House.
In his announcement, Boehner said Bonner is “widely respected” on both sides of the aisle and has a “deep appreciation for the importance of both ethics education and enforcement in the House.”
“The American people have every right to expect the highest standards of ethical conduct from their elected leaders, and it is important for members of both the majority and the minority to work together to ensure that such standards are observed and respected at all times within the institution,” Boehner said in a written statement. “A functioning Ethics Committee will be central to that effort in the 112th Congress.”
“I am confident that as chairman, he will work with the other members of the Ethics Committee to ensure there is accountability at all times in the People’s House,” Boehner continued. “I look forward to working with him, and I’m grateful for his willingness to serve.”
Although not surprising, the move amounts to a rejection of calls to reconstitute the panel and appoint an entirely new roster. Bonner served as the committee’s ranking member during a rocky period for the panel throughout the last Congress.
Over the last two years, the panel was fraught with partisan infighting, and faced criticism for its handling of several investigations, including probes of Reps. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).
At one point during the summer, Bonner took the unusual step of publicly criticizing then-ethics Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) for failing to schedule Rangel’s ethics trial before the November midterm elections. He accused her of playing politics with the ethics process.
The House censured Rangel in early December, but the Waters case is still pending. The panel indefinitely delayed her public trial in late November and put the lead attorney on the case, as well as an assisting attorney, on administrative leave without explanation.
Blake Chisam, the ethics committee chief counsel and staff director who was hand-selected by Lofgren, wanted to fire the two attorneys on the Waters case on Nov. 19, but Bonner objected, according to knowledgeable sources.
Chisam tendered his resignation before the election and left the committee in mid-December.
Also in mid-December, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), a member of the panel, said the committee’s integrity was in jeopardy unless Boehner appointed an entirely new slate of members. Several ethics watchdogs echoed that call.
Democrats have not said whether Lofgren will remain on the panel as ranking member.