The new House Republican leadership team had its first major setback last Thursday, immediately after taking the reins. Republican appropriators thwarted an attempt by Minority Leader John Boehner (R., Ohio) and Whip Eric Cantor (R., Va.) to curtail pork-barrel spending within the caucus.
Even if the defeat was barely noticed by the public — an insiders’ maneuver within an insiders’ game — it was a sign that the new leadership and members of the Republican Conference want to change things in order to win back the public’s trust.
A similar event, however, was similarly unnoticed: the removal of Rep. Don Young (R., Alaska) from his position on the House GOP Steering Committee. Young’s defeat at the hands of Rep. Mike Simpson (R., Idaho) to be the member on the committee representing small states was confirmed by a Dear Colleague letter circulated today by Boehner’s office.
The steering committee, whose affairs are generally conducted in secret, assigns House Republicans to congressional committees. The removal of Young, who has served in the House since 1973, could be an early sign that Republicans want to clean house after an embarrassing three-year ordeal with corruption in Republican ranks that has contributed to their poor performance at the ballot box.
Young has been under federal investigation for his ties to a corrupt oil services firm in Alaska — the same firm that furnished gifts to Sen. Ted Stevens (R., Alaska), who was convicted last month of failing to report the gifts on his annual Senate disclosure forms. In addition, the House and Senate both requested a federal criminal investigation last year into an earmark that Young added to an already-passed transportation bill before it was signed by President Bush.
The Steering Committee will soon decide whether Young continues as ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee. Members must request assignments to specific committees in writing by December 5. Young is reportedly being challenged by Rep. Doc Hastings (R., Wash.), whose office did not respond to inquiries.
— David Freddoso is an NRO staff reporter.
UPDATE: Doc Hastings’s office got back to NRO after publication evening. His chief of staff, Todd Young, tells me that Hastings has already requested to continue on the Rules Committee and did not make any requests about seeking the ranking membership of Natural Resources.