Is this the end of Rep. Trey Radel’s political future? The Republican freshman congressman from south Florida pleaded guilty Wednesday to a misdemeanor charge of cocaine possession.
This, after he was arrested Oct. 29 in a federal drug sting. The flamboyant fan of hip-hop, the tea party, and Twitter agreed to pay an undercover agent in the Washington neighborhood of Dupont Circle $250 for 3.5 grams of cocaine, then was accompanied by federal agents to his apartment, where he handed them a vial of cocaine, court documents show. He will enter in-patient rehab in Florida and be in supervised probation for one year.
Representative Radel looks to be the first sitting member of Congress to be charged with a drug offense since 1982, when former Rep. Frederick Richmond (D) of New York was convicted on tax evasion and drug possession, the Associated Press reports.
Yet it's not certain that Congress will take any action against Radel.
According to its rules, the House Ethics Committee is obligated to look into the case, but House Speaker John Boehner’s press secretary, Michael Steel, on Tuesday said that the matter should be handled by the courts.
“Nothing may happen to Radel,” says Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Radel holds a safe seat that he won by 63 percent, and he is valued by the leadership for his fluent Spanish and ability to talk to the Spanish-language media as a former journalist.
In an example from 2011, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D) of California only called for Rep. Anthony Weiner (D) of New York to resign after several days of mounting pressure.
Sure, members of Congress are “just people,” says Ms. Sloan, but they are “sworn to uphold the law and maintain high ethical standards.” They are “supposed to be role models.”
Generally, she adds, “sin violations are the kind that get you kicked out faster than anything else.”
Of course, some politicians have recovered from scandal. Sen. David Vitter (R) of Louisiana was caught up in the “D.C. Madam” prostitution scandal in 2007. He quickly admitted the charges, and with his wife by his side, publicly asked voters for forgiveness. He refused to resign or answer any further questions and easily won reelection in 2010.
Then there was the “comeback kid” himself – President Bill Clinton, who so emphatically declared, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” and then was impeached by the House over the Monica Lewinsky affair. Now, he’s so popular and influential that President Obama is taking his advice on Obamacare.
But consider others who haven’t been able to achieve political redemption. Democrat Bob Filner, a former congressman, resigned as mayor of San Diego in August after allegations of sexual harassment. Former Representative Weiner, famed for tweeting photos of himself in his briefs, ran for New York mayor this year – and lost, despite the support of his sort-of famous wife. Eliot Spitzer, who was forced to resign as governor of New York after a prostitution scandal in 2008, couldn’t get past the primaries in his recent race for comptroller of the state.
In 2011, only one day passed before Republican Rep. Christopher Lee of New York resigned from his House seat after reports surfaced that he had sent suggestive e-mails, including one showing his bare chest, to a woman – not his wife.
Aside from Mr. Radel’s statement admitting that he “struggles with the disease of alcoholism” and expressing “profound” sorrow for letting down his family and constituents, it was business as usual on his website today, with his news ticker reporting his proposal for legislation to delay the “Obamacare fine” and praise for his Twitter reviews of the SkyMall in-flight catalog. Not a word about potentially resigning his seat – although the Florida Democratic Party called on him to resign immediately.
Apparently, that's not in Radel's plans. He's going into treatment so he can “continue serving this country,” according to Roll Call.