Politico reports that a “wave of ethics problems for Capitol Hill Democrats makes GOP strategists optimistic that they can do to Democrats what was done to Republicans in 2006: paint a picture of a majority party corrupted by its own power.” Rep. Charlie Rangel’s ethics probe is ongoing; Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson has been accused of using his post to try to wring campaign donations out of the credit-card industry; the Justice Department is still rummaging around in the lobbying scandal surrounding the PMA Group, which threatens to ensnare Reps. Jack Murtha, James Moran, and Pete Visclosky, among others; and in the Senate, Max Baucus’s girlfriend scandal is growing while Sen. Roland Burris got slapped on the wrist for lying about his contacts with Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
All in all, it’s quite a track record. In and of themselves, scandals don’t usually take down a majority party, but we saw in 1994 and 2006 how the corruption issue played a significant role. The incumbent party must play defense, its supporters are a bit down in the dumps, and challengers get to play the “Washington outsider” card. And in this case, the Democrats will have Nancy Pelosi’s words hung around their necks:
“Thanks to Nancy Pelosi’s lapses in judgment, the rap sheet on the Democratic-led Congress is getting longer by the day,” said Ken Spain, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “When the speaker promised to ‘drain the swamp,’ she probably didn’t think she’d be fighting off hypocrisy charges four years later heading into the 2010 elections.”
The Democrats could, of course, throw the miscreants overboard and at the very least take away key committee chairmanships while the matters are investigated. But they seem to show no interest in doing that. I suppose the congressional generic poll numbers will have to get even worse before that happens.