WASHINGTON – Republicans and Democrats sought to nudge Rep. James Traficant toward resignation Tuesday after his conviction on federal bribery and tax evasion charges, but the Ohio lawmaker gave no indication he would comply.
"Felons belong in jail and not in Congress," said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who introduced legislation to expel the nine-term lawmaker. "He has broken the public trust by breaking the law, and if he will not voluntarily leave this house, our duty is to remove him."
Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, acted after House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said GOP lawmakers feel that Traficant should resign. "My own view is that the normal course of events would probably lead to expulsion," Armey said.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., offered a similar resolution late Tuesday. Even though the resolution had no immediate timetable for consideration by the House, Sanchez said she offered the measure "to send a message to the American people that most of us are very troubled by his conduct."
"I think he tarnishes all of us," Sanchez said. "He should resign."
Traficant was found guilty last week of taking kickbacks from staff and bribes and gifts from businessmen. The charges, including tax evasion, carry a maximum penalty of 63 years in prison, but under federal guidelines he is likely to get much less jail time when he is sentenced June 27.
Within an hour, House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt called for the lawmaker's resignation.
The conviction triggered an automatic disciplinary investigation by the House ethics committee, which will decide in private whether House rules were violated.
Expulsion would require the approval of two-thirds of the 435-member House. The resolutions by Sensenbrenner and Sanchez were referred to the House ethics committee with no timetable for consideration.
Only one member has been expelled from the House since the Civil War. In 1980, Rep. Michael "Ozzie" Myers, D-Pa., was expelled for accepting money from undercover FBI agents posing as Arab sheiks seeking favors from Congress.
Sensenbrenner called on Traficant to resign and "save the House the need to debate once again whether felons should continue to serve in Congress."
Traficant chief of staff Charlie Straub said Monday that the lawmaker had no plans to resign. Traficant has also said he will run for re-election in November.
The Democratic lawmaker decided not to return to Washington this week amid warnings his colleagues would move to expel him if he tried to vote on the House floor, Straub said.
Traficant's office staff said they were told lawmakers were threatening to introduce a resolution that would call for immediate disciplinary action, including expulsion.