Pelosi Rift Changed Jefferson's Course
May 24, 2006
By Steve Kornacki,
Roll Call Staff
Rep. William Jefferson, whose career is now threatened by an aggressive Justice Department inquiry, came to Washington, D.C., in 1991 oozing ambition, a 43-year-old Harvard-educated lawyer who had just knocked off one of the most prominent names in New Orleans to win Louisiana's 2nd district House seat.
Positioning himself as a leader for the post-Civil Rights era, the mild-mannered Congressman joined forces with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council and declared himself a resolute free trader, ..................
But it was likely a different losing campaign, waged long before word of the ethics probe spread last summer, that actually marked Jefferson's transformation from a rising political star to a Member with little influence in the House but enormous behind-the-scenes clout in his home state.
It was after the 2002 elections when Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the incoming House Minority Leader, was confronted with one of her first decisions: whom to appoint as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Jefferson waged an aggressive — and public — campaign, with support from the influential Congressional Black Caucus. The timing seemed right, since Pelosi had just restored Rep. Jane Harman's (Calif.) seniority, a move that deprived Rep. Sanford Bishop (Ga.), a CBC member, of his perch on the Intelligence Committee.
CBC members told Pelosi she could make things right by tapping Jefferson for the DCCC, but she ended up choosing another Californian, Rep. Robert Matsui, who had been reluctant to take the demanding post but with whom she shared a close friendship.
"He was clearly very pissed off," a former senior Democratic aide said, adding that it's not unusual for Members who have been denied plum assignments to lash out in such a manner.
But Jefferson's fury wasn't temporary, and the DCCC affair turned he and Pelosi into enemies. It also meant that he was unlikely to be a contender for a leadership post ever again. Jefferson had won a reputation as a skilled and influential legislator — he had, for instance, been a key player in the Clinton administration's push for the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993 — but after '02, insiders say, his focus seemed to shift away from Washington and back to his home state.
In Louisiana, Jefferson was at the peak of his game, the highest-ranking black elected official in the state and the gatekeeper of an empire of campaign donors and political muscle in the New Orleans area.
"After the DCCC Chairmanship issue," a Democratic source observed, "Jefferson focused more on his Louisiana politics. He became the guy you had to go through in order to get political things done in New Orleans."
That said, he did retain his Ways and Means assignment in Congress, not to mention more than a few allies in the CBC. Now, even as his backroom power in Louisiana fades, Jefferson may be counting on that CBC support to keep Democratic leaders from stripping him of his Ways and Means seat — at least until and unless he is indicted.
"I can't say for sure how CBC members would react" if Pelosi pre-emptively removed Jefferson from the committee, said a source close to the CBC. "But my gut tells me they wouldn't be quiet on that issue."
My take on this; the Rethugs are running scared because their offices can now be raided just like Jefferson's was. Bush is sending a message - "...diss me and I will burn you come November."
For DLC democrats toting water for AIPAC, a poster on Americablog put it best: "It's time for all of you to show your AIPAC butt holes..."
Lay down with thugs, get up with a smackdown. Jefferson better hope he can turn state's evidence and take the heat off him. The CBC foolishly tried to establish a legal defense fund, but how do you defend (a) $90k in your freezer, and (b) commandeering tanks to go to your house to pick up your stuff, and ride past Katrina victims who probably drowned waiting on those tanks you diverted.
I posted about "Dollar Bill" Jefferson eight months ago here. It's in the October archives, but I basically said that Hurricane Katrina exposed how badly and ineffectively Jefferson represented his district. You know I went on a stretch when I actually compared his representation to Harold Ford's...and Ford came out better than Jefferson did.
THE DLC MOTTO: "SO EASILY CORRUPTED..."