House votes to expand oversight of pages

January 20, 2007|By Johanna Neuman | Johanna Neuman,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Four months after the congressional page scandal rocked Capitol Hill and helped dash Republican hopes for holding their majorities in Congress, the House voted unanimously yesterday to expand the board that oversees the teenage interns and require that it meet regularly.

The House voted 416-0 to reorganize the board so that it has three congressional members from each party, one parent of a page and one former page. The board would be responsible for oversight of the roughly 70 pages - usually 16-year-olds who spend a year running errands for members of Congress and their staffs while attending school in the nation's capital.

Passage of the bill aimed at protecting the program, which is more than a century old, was the last item on the list of priorities Democrats hoped to check off in their first weeks in power.

Their agenda was aimed at demonstrating that they were responsive to voter ire at the polls last November.

The page scandal began in late September, when it came to light that then-Rep. Mark Foley had written sexually explicit electronic messages to several former male pages. The Florida Republican, who had also served as chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, quickly resigned, but the revelations snowballed as reporters tracked down former pages and outraged parents.

Before it was over, the scandal embroiled then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert in questions about why he had not done a better job overseeing the program and whether Foley had been protected by high-ranking GOP officials who had failed to rein him in.

The House Ethics Committee, in an investigation into the Foley case released in December, said that former Clerk of the House Jeff Trandahl warned Rep. John Shimkus, an Illinois Republican who was then chairman of the page board, that Foley was a "ticking time bomb" who had been confronted repeatedly about his conduct.

Shimkus told a colleague that "he believed he had done the right thing in 2005 based on the information he had" when he simply told Foley not to contact one of the pages again.

Johanna Neuman writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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