Michael Grimm resignation: why Speaker Boehner is cheering

Rep. Michael Grimm (R) is resigning effective Jan. 5, after insisting he would stay in Congress despite a guilty plea to felony tax evasion. On Monday, he had a conversation with Speaker John Boehner.

Stephanie Keith/Reuters
Representative Michael Grimm of New York is photographed ahead of a news conference following his guilty plea at the Brooklyn federal court in New York, December 23, 2014.

Rep. Michael Grimm (R) of New York may best be remembered for threatening to throw a reporter off a balcony in the Capitol and “break [him] in half” after last January’s State of the Union address.

But it was felony tax evasion, to which he recently pleaded guilty, that proved to be Representative Grimm’s political undoing. Late Monday night, he announced he was resigning from Congress, effective Jan. 5.

“I do not believe that I can continue to be 100 percent effective in the next Congress, and therefore, out of respect for the office and the people I so proudly represent, it is time for me to start the next chapter of my life,” Grimm said in a statement.

The resignation represents a victory for House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio, even though Grimm’s Staten Island seat could potentially go to a Democrat in a special election. In the 114th Congress, which begins Jan. 3, Republicans will control both houses of Congress and are under pressure to show they can govern effectively.

Grimm’s outsize persona and legal problems have been a distraction for his party, though he won reelection easily in November. Even after his guilty plea last week, Grimm had insisted he would not resign his seat. But on Monday, Speaker Boehner had a conversation with Grimm, and within hours the New York congressman announced his resignation.

During a hearing last Tuesday, Grimm pleaded guilty to one count of aiding in the filing of a false tax return, and he is expected to serve some months in prison. Short of treason, a member of Congress convicted of a felony is still allowed to serve. But under House rules, a member convicted of a felony may not vote in committee or on the floor. The ban is lifted once the member is reelected, but in Grimm’s case, the rule would have left his district effectively unrepresented for two years.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has yet to call a special election, but both parties have already been looking at potential candidates. On the Republican side, District Attorney Daniel Donovan was seen as a strong prospect, but the decision of a grand jury not to bring an indictment in the chokehold death of Eric Garner harms Mr. Donovan’s chances. Donovan was the lead prosecutor in the case.

Other GOP possibilities include state Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis and state Sen. Andrew Lanza.

On the Democratic side, one prospect is former Rep. Michael McMahon, who lost to Grimm in 2010. Another possibility is state Assemblyman Michael Cusick. Both are conservative Democrats.

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