– Gordon Lightfoot, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, 1976
The gales of November may have come early for House Democrats, cloaked as the Ides of March.
If Democrats surrender control of the House this fall, people will point to March 3 as the day everything buckled. Wednesday was a hellish day for House Democrats. It started just before 9:00 am with Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) relinquishing his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee due to an ethics probe.
Shortly after Democrats came to power in 2007, Rangel published his autobiography “…And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since.” The memoir chronicled how Rangel survived the streets of Harlem as a kid and joined the Army. Rangel was wounded in Korea during the battle of Kunu-ri and was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for Valor. Rangel derived the title of his book from remarks he made that he hasn’t had a bad a day since Kunu-ri.
On Wednesday afternoon, Rangel met with fellow Democrats to explain why he gave up the Ways and Means gavel. Mindful of the book title, he was asked if this had been a bad day. “I haven’t had a bad day yet,” Rangel laughed. “But it’s been close!”
It may not have been a bad day for Rangel. But it sure was for Democrats.
- On Wednesday, lawmakers gathered in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall to honor the late Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) who died unexpectedly last month. Murtha’s untimely passing throws his Pennsylvania seat into play this fall.
- By afternoon, President Obama unfurled his final health care reform plan. Mr. Obama hopes to flip the votes of the nearly 40 House Democrats who opposed the original health bill in November. But the president’s retrenched package failed to impress many moderate Democrats who voted no last year.
- Rep. Dan Boren (D-OK) was particularly outspoken. “They can break my arms. They can do whatever they want to and they’ll never get my vote. Ever,” Boren said. “I mean they’ll have to walk across my dead body if they want my vote on this issue.”
- Boren added that he thought a lot of House Democrats could lose their seats if they supported the bill.
- By mid-afternoon, a brushfire sizzled across Capitol Hill. A male aide to rookie Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) accused his boss of sexual harassment. Massa called the allegation “totally false.” A Naval Academy graduate, Massa said the only thing he was guilty of was slinging around course language in the office.
“I am a salty old sailor,” Massa said.
- But by Wednesday night, the office of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said as soon as the leader found out about the accusation, he ordered Massa to refer the matter to the House Ethics Committee within 48 hours or he would do it himself.
- On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) described the swirl of accusations surrounding Massa as a “one, two, three person removed rumor.”
- However by Friday, Massa decided to just resign. Citing his sharp tongue.
- No one knows what happened between Massa and the male aide. But when asked about Massa Wednesday, Hoyer invoked former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) without prompting. Foley resigned in disgrace in 2006 after sending inappropriate messages to teenage, male House pages.
If Wednesday is the Democrats’ Waterloo, it came eight months early. Democrats also say the election of Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) sent them an early wakeup call.
- Democrats seem to have doused some of the flames by getting Rangel to step down as chairman. And to paraphrase boxer Roberto Duran, as of 5 pm Monday, House Democrats will have “no Massa.”
But is this the end of the Democrats’ troubles? Or is it the end of the beginning?
- “This is an ethical valley they’re starting into,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR). “It may be the Grand Canyon.”
- House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-CT) stated,
“History more often than not is instructive. It doesn’t repeat itself,” Larson said. “Hopefully you learn from it.”
Regardless, distinct political winds are howling. And the question is whether the “gales of November came early” for Democrats when March blew in like a lion.