Today, Nancy Pelosi became the first woman in America’s history elected as the Speaker of the House, and as the new Democratic majority takes charge, Pelosi will have to make good on her promise to clean up Congress. And step one, it seems, was confronting a fellow member of the Democratic party, Louisiana’s own “Dollar” Bill Jefferson, who was re-elected by a considerable margin despite the $90,000 in bribe money allegedly found in his refrigerator. Jefferson had been on the House Ways and Means Committee– and had wanted to stay on the committee. Unfortunately for Jefferson, Pelosi wasn’t going to have it.
And despite the takeover, it doesn’t look like Jefferson is going to continue to wield the same influence. From the Washington Post:
On June 15, beneath the crystal chandeliers and Corinthian pilasters of the Cannon Caucus Room, House Democrats had to decide how they really felt about the “culture of corruption.” After months of expressing outrage over Republican scandals, what would they do about the $90,000 the FBI had found in the freezer of one of their own?
To House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the answer was obvious: Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.) had to give up his coveted spot on the Ways and Means Committee. But at the closed-door caucus meeting, several black Democrats complained that Pelosi was not their emperor or queen, while Jefferson implored his colleagues to keep him on Ways and Means for the sake of Hurricane Katrina’s victims. No one spoke up for Pelosi — except Pelosi.
She began by praising Jefferson’s wife and five daughters: Jamila, Jalila, Jelani, Nailah and Akilah. But she quickly made it clear that Jefferson’s legal problems had become her political problem: “I am not an emperor or a queen. But neither am I a fool.”
Pelosi explained that Democrats should be the party of ethics, that appearances count, that dealing forcefully with Jefferson’s scandal would help everyone else in the room. “You didn’t elect me emperor or queen,” she said. “You elected me leader.”
The Democrats overwhelmingly voted Jefferson off the committee. And in November, Americans voted Democrats into the majority, citing corruption as one of the issues that soured them on the GOP.
Despite Pelosi’s refusal to allow Jefferson to remain on the committee, she didn’t exactly do much to help his opponent Karen Carter during the December run-off.
And, in December, when Jefferson faced a fight for his political life in a runoff against state Rep. Karen R. Carter, a black Democrat with none of his ethical baggage, Pelosi refused to get involved.
Today, Jefferson will take his seat in Pelosi’s House. His inconvenient presence will be a constant reminder of the fine line the new speaker will have to walk between rhetoric and reality, between the cross-cutting demands of her caucus and the demands of the public.
“Pelosi wouldn’t even take my calls,” Carter said. “None of the Democrats in Washington would take my calls. They all said they wanted to get rid of corruption, but I guess it wasn’t their top priority.”