NRCC won’t leave Jerry McNerney alone

The National Republican Congressional Committee is at it again, apparently not clear on the fact that Election Day is almost a month behind us now. This morning I received an NRCC hit piece on Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, entitled “McNerney Backer Caught Making Sweetheart Deals” – it’s about Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., who’s facing increasing pressure to step down from his chair of the Ways and Means Committee due to a possible quid pro quo deal with a major donor and other apparent improprieties.

“Jerry McNerney was elected to Congress with the help of dirty money from one of Washington’s most blatantly corrupt legislators,” NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said in the release. “If McNerney truly is the ‘independent voice’ that he claimed to be on the campaign trail, he’ll come forward and join the calls for Charlie Rangel to step down from his committee chairmanship for the benefit of the American people. So far, though, McNerney has been conspicuously silent, and he’s sending a clear signal to the people of California that his idea of being an ‘independent voice’ is shirking his responsibilities to his constituents in an effort to stay in good graces with crooked Washington insiders.”

But whether Rangel should keep his chairmanship is a question that the new House Democratic Caucus will have to consider en masse when it reconvenes in January. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, implied as much last week.

“In September, I called on the House Ethics Committee to look into issues raised by news reports on Chairman Rangel. This followed up on the Chairman’s own request for an investigation by the Committee,” Pelosi said in a statement issued Wednesday. “I have been assured the report will be completed by the end of this session of Congress, which concludes on January 3, 2009. I look forward to reviewing the report at that time.”

That’s Speaker-speak for, “We’re gonna decide this behind closed doors, not in the media.” Now, as a reporter, I’d rather they settle in the media — right here on my blog, in fact — but you don’t have to be a longtime political reporter to know that’s not gonna fly.

So why would any House Democrat buck the Speaker and denounce Rangel now at the NRCC’s dare? Why McNerney in particular? Is the NRCC also urging its own members to renounce Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, the Appropriations Committee‘s ranking Republican, or Don Young, R-Alaska, the Natural Resources Committee‘s ranking Republican — both of whom are the subjects of federal corruption probes?

As far as I can see, McNerney received $14,000 from Rangel in the 2007-08 election cycle: $10,000 from Rangel’s National Leadership PAC, and $4,000 from Rangel’s own campaign committee. (He also got $7,000 from Rangel’s committees in 2006, when he defeated incumbent Richard Pombo, R-Tracy.) That makes him one of well over 100 House Democrats who got money from Rangel in this cycle, and it’s clearly a drop in the $2.8 million bucket (as of Oct. 15) that McNerney had raised for his campaign against Republican challenger Dean Andal.

Many thought the 11th Congressional District race would be tight this year – a freshman Democrat in a district with a slight Republican registration edge. It wasn’t so tight after all; McNerney beat Andal with 55.3 percent of the vote. And the NRCC had tried to lay Rangel’s problems at McNerney’s feet back in September, and nobody cared.

It begs the question of why the NRCC is wasting electrons trying to smear McNerney with someone else’s alleged indiscretions now, almost a month after his victory. But I guess the NRCC doesn’t have much else to do with its time right now.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.