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The Frat House of Representatives

Crotch shots. Infidelity. Secret payoffs. Pants-less octogenarians. And the infamous “Bros Caucus.”

Welcome to the Frat House of Representatives.

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The past year in Congress has been a lowlight reel of nonstop unethical — and, in some cases, potentially illegal — behavior. Three House members resigned over alleged misconduct. Four others announced they won’t seek reelection, an option they took to head off party leaders forcing them out.

Just last week, POLITICO reported that Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) is threatening to depose Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) in his divorce case. Turner wants to know about Issa’s relationship with Turner’s estranged wife, though Issa has denied any improper behavior.

Incidents like these have become seemingly routine, which itself shows how far Congress’ ethical standards have fallen of late.

“It’s been a soap opera, but this adds another chapter,” Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) said of the Turner-Issa drama. Yoho said he’s sick of the scandals that distract from legislative business.

“Infidelity and things like that aren’t felonies, but it’s a lapse of character,” he said. “And I think we have plenty of people you have seen in the news that show a lack of character and a lack of ethics.”

“This shouldn’t be normal, and it’s starting to feel like it is,” added Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.).

The Senate hasn’t been immune. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) resigned in January after a slew of sexual harassment allegations, bowing to demands from female and male senators that he step down.

And a bribery case against Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) ended last month when prosecutors dropped the charges after a trial ended in a hung jury. The Senate Ethics Committee is still investigating Menendez’s dealings with a wealthy friend and donor. But he has returned to his post as the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is running for reelection, with the support of New Jersey’s new governor and the entire Senate Democratic leadership.

Yet the House of Representatives — the people’s House — has been home to the most outlandish behavior.

Before the current, 115th Congress started in January 2017, House Republicans voted to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics — the independent ethics watchdog — only to reverse themselves in the face of a public backlash.

The fiasco was a sign of things to come:

  • Democrat John Conyers — the “dean of the House” who was first elected when Lyndon B. Johnson was president — resigned in the midst of a sexual-harassment scandal. BuzzFeed reported Conyers secretly used $ 27,000 in taxpayer funds as a settlement with a former aide who accused him of harassment. Conyers, 88, also reportedly met with aides when he wasn’t wearing pants. And another former aide accused Conyers of “rubbing on her shoulders, kissing her forehead, covering and attempting to hold her hand.”
  • Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), a staunch opponent of abortion rights, resigned after it was disclosed that he had asked his mistress to get an abortion. POLITICO followed up that revelation with a report that Susan Mosychuk — Murphy’s long-time chief of staff, with whom Murphy also had a close personal relationship —ran his office like a prison camp, according to multiple former staffers and lawmakers. “There was screaming, intimidation. Nothing you ever did was right,” a former Murphy aide said.
  • Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) resigned after a former aide alleged he offered her $ 5 million to serve as a birth surrogate. The House Ethics Committee launched an investigation into the case, and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told Franks that the veteran lawmaker should resign. In a bizarre resignation letter, Franks acknowledged discussing his wife’s infertility with aides but denied wrongdoing. He blamed the “current cultural and media climate” for his situation and said he didn’t want to put his family and staff through a “hyperbolized public excoriation.” Top Republican sources told POLITICO that some of the women took his surrogate talk as an invitation to have sex.
  • Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), a member of the House Ethics Committee, announced his retirement after The New York Times disclosed that his office had made a secret sexual-harassment settlement with a former female aide. The married Meehan called the staffer his “soul mate,” a phrase that became an instant classic among lawmakers and staffers on Capitol Hill. After the story broke, he also admitted that he may have treated the aide adversely when she rejected his advances and found out she had a boyfriend.
  • Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) announced he wouldn’t run for reelection after a former girlfriend posted naked crotch shots of the 68-year-old lawmaker. Barton sent graphic text messages, too. “I want u soo bad,” said one text message. Barton pointed out that he was single when he sent the pictures and messages, and he asked the U.S. Capitol Police to investigate the leaker for posting “revenge porn.”
  • In just his first term, Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.) announced his retirement in December. According to BuzzFeed, Kihuen allegedly propositioned a former aide “for dates and sex despite her repeated rejections. On two occasions, she says he touched her thighs without consent.” A second former female aide came forward as well to claim harassment. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) led the charge to get rid of Kihuen.
  • Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) announced his own retirement after POLITICO disclosed that a former aide, Lauren Greene, had received $ 84,000 from his office to settle a lawsuit over sexual harassment, gender discrimination and creating a hostile work environment. Greene said another Farenthold aide told her the lawmaker had “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about her. Greene also claimed that Farenthold “regularly drank to excess” and told her in February 2014 that he was “estranged from his wife and had not had sex with her in years.” Farenthold said he would repay the taxpayer payment out of his personal funds, but so far, that has not happened.
  • Finally, POLITICO reported last week that FBI investigators were digging into the personal life of Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a former Marine-turned-lawmaker with a reputation for heavy drinking and keeping company with women. A federal grand jury has been hearing testimony from former staffers and subpoenaed Hunter’s family — Duncan Hunter Sr., is a former member — about allegations that his campaign funds were used for personal meals, his children’s schooling and flying a pet rabbit cross-country, among other things. Hunter has pointed the finger at his own wife for campaign spending problems, but his relationships with women in Washington — including in his own office — have also come up in the interrogations.
Sen. Jeff Flake (left) is pictured. | Getty Images

The fallout from the scandals has yielded varied results. With strong backing from Ryan and Pelosi, the House passed stringent sexual harassment rules that no longer allow secret taxpayer-funded settlements.

Conyers’ resignation left Alaska GOP Rep. Don Young as the “dean of the House,” its longest-serving member. Young, once investigated by the FBI over corruption allegations, held a knife to former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) during a dispute over spending earmarks years ago. Boehner says he stared Young in the eyes and said, “Fuck you.”

The scandals have come at such a rapid clip that it’s hard to keep up with all of them. Some lawmakers are fed up with the relentless headlines and questions from media.

“I find it insulting that this is the way we spend our days,” an exasperated Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) said last week when asked about the Turner-Issa drama. “We have serious budget challenges, serious defense challenges. And the question of who did what to whom on Thursday is a disappointment. It’s not news!”

Other members argued that the Founding Fathers weren’t angels, or that members of Congress are no worse than most Americans — it just becomes news when they get caught.

John Cornyn is pictured. | AP Photo

“I think you have the same collection of human foibles and frailties that you see in other places, just there’s a lot more attention focused on it,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.).

Yet some lawmakers say members of Congress are, in fact, the problem. Yoho, who once broke off a business relationship when he found out his partner was having an affair, said if a lawmaker cheats on his wife he may be inclined to cheat voters. Yoho also argued that those who cheat are probably too distracted to properly do their jobs in Congress.

“If somebody is having an affair and they’re trying to keep it a secret… how much time can you stay focused on what [you’re] hired to do?” Yoho said. “You want people with moral integrity and character representing you.”

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Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

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