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John Boehner's Kiss of Death

Why the House Republicans are so efficient at cleaning up their scandals

AFP/Getty Images

Tom Hagen: The Roman Empire … when a plot against the Emperor failed, the plotters were always given a chance to let their families keep their fortunes.

Frankie Pentangeli: Yeah, but only the rich guys. The little guys got knocked off. If they got arrested and executed, all their estate went to the Emperor. If they just went home and killed themselves, up front, nothing happened.

Hagen: Yeah, that was a good break. A nice deal.

Pentangeli: They went home and sat in a hot bath and opened their veins, and bled to death. Sometimes they gave a little party before they did it.

Hagen: Don't worry about anything, Frankie Five-Angels.

The Godfather, Part II.

I have always admired the swiftness with which the House Republican leadership is able to persuade its members to resign after they’ve been caught in some scandal. A new memoir by former Rep. Bob Ney, who did jail time for his role in the Jack Abramoff scandal, suggests they may have borrowed their technique from a classic American film.

Mark Souder, Mark Foley, Kevin Cameron, Christopher Lee … do you even remember who these Republican members of Congress were? Probably not, because the period that lapsed between when their ethical breaches surfaced in the press and when they resigned from Congress was breathtakingly short.

This isn’t the norm. Politicians have such large egos that it usually takes them an inordinately long time to grasp when they’ve become a pathetic joke. Mark Sanford, the disgraced former Republican governor of South Carolina, still hasn’t figured that out. House Democrats dispatch their scandal-plagued members with nothing like the speed that House Republicans do. More than three years elapsed before William “Dollar Bill” Jefferson departed the House after the FBI found $90,000 in his freezer. Nancy Pelosi, then House Speaker, stripped him of his seat on the Ways and Means committee but couldn’t get him to resign. (It’s a near-certainty she tried.) Anthony Weiner took nearly a month to vacate his House seat after he got caught exchanging naughty texts and photos with various women on Twitter and Facebook.

Whatever the House Republicans’ secret is, they haven’t shared it with Senate Republicans, who had to endure two more years with John Ensign after word got out about a rococo scandal involving a payoff to cover up a sexual infidelity. David Vitter, caught up six years ago in a prostitution scandal, didn’t leave at all, and seems finally to have put the matter behind him. He’s lucky he wasn’t still in the House when it broke. If he had been, he’d be long gone!

So what’s the House Republicans’ secret sauce? According to Ney’s new book, Sideswiped: Lessons Learned Courtesy of the Hit Men of Capitol Hill, after Ney’s misdeed surfaced House Speaker (then Minority Leader) John Boehner offered him the following deal: Resign within 24 hours and “I will personally guarantee you a job comparable to what you are making, and raise legal defense money for you.” Don’t you worry about anything, Frankie Five-Angels.

Boehner’s office denies it, of course, and points out that Ney is a convicted felon. But Ney’s story would explain the House GOP’s deft ability to whisk disgraced members out the door before Jon Stewart turns them into a household name.

Unlike the Corleone family, though, Boehner does not, in Ney’s account, honor his commitments. Ney didn’t get taken care of. Boehner welshed on the deal and didn’t return his phone calls. (If Tom Hagen tried that he’d end up hanging from a meat hook in Paramus, N.J.) If Ney’s story is true, then Boehner will have a harder slog next time he needs to eject a scandal-tainted House Republican from the lower body.