WASHINGTON – Momentum is building to force convicted Rep. James Traficant from Congress as Republicans joined Democratic leaders in calling for his resignation.
"Felons belong in jail and not in Congress," Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said. "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 offered a resolution Tuesday to expel Traficant from Congress. The motion is not the type of resolution that would require immediate action by the House.
His comments came as House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, also took aim at the nine-term Ohio Democrat.
"Most people basically feel that Congressman Traficant should resign," Armey said. "My own view is that the normal course of events would probably lead to expulsion."
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. Under federal guidelines he is likely to get much less jail time when he is sentenced June 27.
House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt said shortly after Traficant's conviction that he had brought discredit to the House and should resign.
Instead of doing so, Traficant fired profanities at Gephardt and said he would not resign. On a radio talk show Tuesday in Ohio, he said he would run for re-election even if he is jailed or expelled from Congress.
Being elected from jail would "make a statement," he said.
Traficant's conviction triggered an automatic disciplinary investigation by the House ethics committee, which will decide in private whether House rules were violated.
Expulsion from Congress would be the most severe punishment and has occurred only once since the Civil War.
In 1980, Rep. Michael Myers, D-Pa., was expelled for accepting money from undercover FBI agents posing as Arab sheiks seeking favors from Congress.
More recently, Rep. Walter Tucker III, D-Calif., was threatened with expulsion after being convicted in 1995 of accepting and demanding bribes while mayor of a Los Angeles suburb. Tucker resigned from Congress a week later.
Expulsion would require the approval of two-thirds of the 435-member House, where Traficant is something of a pariah with his fellow Democrats. He was denied committee assignments last year after he voted for Republican Rep. Dennis Hastert of Illinois for speaker instead of Gephardt.
Sensenbrenner said Traficant should resign to "save the House the need to debate once again whether felons should continue to serve in Congress."
Traficant's office declined to comment on the motion.
A day earlier, Traficant's chief of staff, Charles Straub, said the lawmaker would not resign but decided against returning to Washington this week after his colleagues warned they would move to expel him if he tried to vote on the House floor.