WASHINGTON – House Republican leaders have selected a moderate to lead a committee influential to their drive to overhaul lobbying rules, withRep. Vernon Ehlers replacing a GOP colleague linked to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Ehlers will serve as acting chairman of the House Administration Committee after Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., pressured Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, to step aside temporarily.
Abramoff has pleaded guilty to corruption-related charges and is cooperating with prosecutors.
Ney is accused in Abramoff's plea agreement of accepting lavish gifts, trips and money from Abramoff in exchange for specific acts in Congress. Ney denies any wrongdoing.
Ney said over the weekend that he plans to return to the post, but did not want to be a distraction to the GOP's overhaul efforts. Some of the party's proposals would pass through the committee.
Ehlers, in a statement, said he looked forward "to the opportunity to make the committee and the House run smoothly as we tackle many important issues."
The committee oversees disclosure of members' dealings with lobbyists, as well as privately paid travel by members and their staffs. In the wake of Abramoff's guilty plea, Republicans and Democrats have said lobbyists are too close to members of Congress and that privately paid travel should be curtailed.
Ehlers won praise from Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, who said his Michigan colleague was "a very ethical, very smart and very decent person [who] will be a wonderful choice" to lead the committee.
Ehlers, the first research physicist in Congress, has been on the committee since 1995.
Hastert said Ehlers was instrumental in creating the Library of Congress' Web site — http://thomas.loc.gov — which provides instant public access to all bills before Congress.