Pelosi's Sinking In the Swamp

When she became Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi assured Americans she would “drain the swamp” and clean up ethics violations. To this day, she still boasts about that notion as an accomplishment. Sadly, the swamp is winning.

In perhaps the most appalling display of “cronyism,” -- a word Pelosi herself used almost incessantly when Republicans were in power, -- she has allowed her good friend and political ally, Rep. Charlie Rangel to retain his powerful post as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. This, despite calls for him to step down from both sides of the aisle and a litany of unethical transgressions, including the following:

- Evading taxes on $1.3 million in income derived from multiple properties and failing to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars of assets and income.
- Accusations of taking a $1 million contribution to the Rangel Center at City College from a wealthy businessman who later got a lucrative tax break for his company.
-Accepting a Citigroup-funded trip to the Caribbean in November 2008, when the bank was bleeding the bailout funds dry.
- Unreported rental income from a vacation villa in the Dominican Republic that Rangel failed to acknowledge when filling out financial disclosure forms.

Instead of applying the same guidelines on impropriety that she did for the GOP, Pelosi has largely stayed mum, opting instead to duck, deny, and ignore the gravity of the situation in front of her. It's not surprising since this isn’t the first instance of her favoritism.

She’s also stuck by her closest congressional cohort, John Murtha, who is also facing an investigation into his misdeeds including no-bid contracts awarded to a nephew’s company and $38.1 million in earmarked appropriations for clients of the PMA Group which employs former Murtha staff members and contributed to his campaign.

When asked about attempts to strengthen congressional ethics standards, the Pennsylvania Democrat responded that he thinks it's “crap.” Apparently his buddy Pelosi agrees.

And still, there more! Despite finding photos of $90,000 in cash tucked inside containers of pie crust and Boca Burgers from an FBI raid on the freezer in Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson’s house, Pelosi tried to "gift" him (ironically) with a Homeland Security committee assignment. -- He would later be convicted of 11 counts of racketeering and bribery.

Someone call Joe the Plumber!  The drain on the swamp is awfully clogged up.

Even some Democrats agree. Two of the Speaker's own party members broke with ranks with her and voted against Mr. Rangel, a sign that the Speaker will soon have to answer for her actions -- or lack thereof. Many are calling on Rangel to resign, realizing that not only is this hypocrisy in it’s most audacious form, but also that Republicans will make political hay out of this issue until the leadership on the left, primarily Pelosi, speaks up and calls for the New York congressman to step down.

When the ultra-liberal New York Times editorial page wags its finger in disgust at a hometown son and one of their own, the writing's on the wall about the the severity of this mistake in leadership. On Friday here's what The Times said:

“It is time for Democrats in Congress — who once justifiably complained about the corruption of the Republican majority — to demonstrate to Americans that someone in that august body has ethical standards.

“Speaker Nancy Pelosi, maintaining her tunnel vision on behalf of a powerful colleague, led the majority to defeat the Republicans’ latest call to depose the New York lawmaker. She does the nation no favor.”

But many Democrats in Congress still refuse to see what damage this scandal is doing to their credibility. Why? Because Rangel is “a likeable guy.” Congressman Mark Foley was also a "likeable" guy. But he had to go. More obviously, a chilly demeanor isn’t what's driving the charge here.

Mr. Rangel is the big cheese when it comes to writing federal legislation that impacts our tax code. To not only shield a member of her caucus as political payback for Rangel’s past support of Pelosi -- but to also reward that member -- shows that the Speaker is willing to risk losing her entire caucus, and what’s left of her almost non-existent credibility, for the sake of a few. That’s not just bad politics. That’s bad judgment.

If she hopes to survive a bloody battle in 2010, one where her own words and actions will be used against her, she must insist Rangel resign immediately.

If I had to talk to The New York Times --  who concluded their scathing rebuke of the Speaker by asserting  that the protection of Mr. Rangel as chairman “is a grave misstep” that will only hand the ethics issue back to Pelosi’s political opponents -- I would argue that it’s far too late. The issue has already been returned to Republicans. We can only hope control of the House of Representatives is next.

Andrea Tantaros is a conservative columnist and contributor. Follow her on Twitter @AndreaTantaros.