Ney Steps Down | The Sudden Popularity of Lobbying Reform | All Talk, No Answers

To the Dismay of Ney—If Tom DeLay was the first casualty of Jack Abramoff’s guilty plea, Representative Bob Ney (R-OH), a fast-rising protégé of DeLay’s, is almost certain to be the second. As chairman of the House Administration Committee, which oversees everything from the lawmakers’ mail to parking spots to—gasp!—lobbying rules, Ney became known as the “Mayor of Capitol Hill.” Now he’s also known as “Representative No. 1” in the guilty pleas of Jack Abramoff and his business partner Michael Scanlon. Ney is pegged as the lawmaker who accepted “a stream of things of value” in return for at least ten “official acts.”

On January 14, under the orders of Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Ney “temporarily” vacated his chairmanship. But everyone in Washington knows that, come November 2006, Ney will surely be out of a job or in jail. In its January 23 issue, Newsweekreported that Ney lobbied the Bush Administration to weaken sanctions on Iran on behalf of a Cyprus-based convicted felon, Nigel Winfield, who wanted to sell Iran U.S.-made airplane parts under the guise of “humanitarian” assistance. Winfield flew Ney to London for a business meeting in 2003. He paid Ney’s former chief of staff-turned-lobbyist and partner $220,000 in lobbying fees. Ney returned to London shortly thereafter to gamble with Winfield’s business partner, a high-rolling Syrian who once had his assets frozen by Britain’s High Court. At the Mad Hat casino, Ney turned a $100 bet on two hands of a three-card game of chance into a $34,000 reward. “Ney says nothing improper took place,” Newsweek later reported. “He just got lucky.” Where’s that luck now?

Reform Bandwagon—The scramble to limit the political fallout of Abramoff’s upcoming testimony has saturated Washington with reform frenzy. Overnight, it seems, everyone’s a reformer—producing some rather odd political marriages. At a recent press conference, longtime maverick senator John McCain (R-AZ) shared the stage with Rick Santorum (R-PA), the Senate’s architect of the “K Street Project”—the GOP effort to fuse lawmakers and lobbyists. On the same day, one hour earlier, Speaker Hastert and House Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-CA), two of Tom DeLay’s most loyal allies, announced their own lobbying reform proposal. “Make the ethics committee more user-friendly,” read one of the proposals—no small irony considering that Hastert personally paralyzed the House ethics committee by purging its chairman after the body admonished DeLay three times in late 2004. “It depends what you mean by user-friendly,” one reporter in the press gallery declared. “If you’re a Congressman in trouble, it’s already pretty user-friendly.”

Alito Goes a Long Way—Over the past decade, the Democrats have grown accustomed to losing. This loserdom was on full display during Judge Samuel Alito’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings. What had been billed as an epic showdown between senators and the nominee managed to be a maddeningly bland affair.

“John Roberts charmed his way through the proceedings,” noted the on-line journal Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick. “Sam Alito has chosen to simply bore his way through, and as a consequence . . . the Democrats on the judiciary committee have hardly laid a glove on him.” Indeed, the Democrats seemed less interested in asking questions than in orating at length. For example, one enterprising blogger produced the “Alito Hearing Verbosity Index.” That old lion Ted Kennedy topped the list with a whopping 8,083 words in a four-day span, 66.5 percent of his time spent talking at Alito, rather than listening to his answers. In fact, the five top spots on the Verbosity Index were filled by Democrats. Two of them, known hams Joe Biden of Delaware and Chuck Schumer of New York, spoke less than Kennedy but racked up a higher oration-to-question ratio, 70.8 percent and 72.1 percent, respectively.

Alito himself did have some interesting things to say. He endorsed “originalism,” the judicial philosophy of Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas; dismissed the opinions of foreign courts in interpreting U.S. law; and refused to rule out re-examining, and possibly overturning,Roe v. Wade. None of this mattered much to gleeful Republicans; it was up to Democrats to stop the seating of the Court’s next archconservative. Despite over two months of prep time, “Democratic aides said there had been even less strategy than usual in trying to coordinate questioning by the eight Democratic senators” who interviewed him, wrote the New York Times. Hey, it’s only the balance of the Supreme Court.