Anti-human rights lawmaker Dennis Hastert resigns

The following analysis of Dennis Hastert’s congressional service is provided by the Ethiopian American News Service.

Dennis Hastert, the former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives from Illinois’ 14th district, resigned his seat in Congress effective 11:59 p.m. on Monday, November 26. Hastert is remembered in the Ethiopian community as the individual responsible for blocking H.R. 5680 (The Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights Advancement Act of 2006, sponsored by Christopher Smith) from reaching the House floor in 2006 for final action. He is widely regarded as the man who hijacked human rights in Ethiopia. Harper’s Magazine last year reported that “Armey [former House majority leader and DLA Piper lobbyists] twisted the arm of then-House Speaker Denny Hastert to ensure that [H.R. 5680] didn’t come up for a vote.”

Hastert was one of the most anti-human rights lawmakers in modern Congressional history. Prior to his opposition of the Ethiopia human rights bill, Hastert bottled up human rights bills aimed at China, Turkey, Colombia and other countries with massive human rights violations.

Hastert showed his callousness in September, 2005 when he declared that spending federal money to rebuild New Orleans from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina “doesn’t make sense to me. It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed.”

Hastert has been criticized for a number of questionable ethical practices, including a legal effort to quash a subpoena to force him to testify in a criminal case linked to Randy “Duke” Cunnigham, the former San Diego congressman convicted of bribery in 2006. He was also criticized for an appropriation of $356 million for a highway that will speed the development of large tracts of land he owned in Illinois.

Hastert sought campaign contributions from groups and organizations with questionable background. He received multiple contributions from Enron Corporation, which defrauded investors and employees of billions of dollars. He also received thousands of dollars in contributions from clients of lobbyist Jack Abramoff who pled guilty in 2006 to a massive fraud and bribery scheme in Congress.

In September of 2006, it was revealed that Hastert had been aware for over a year that Representative Mark Foley had been soliciting sex from underage congressional pages. Hastert did nothing to stop Foley. Foley continued to engage in sexual harassment of young men working as congressional pages until he was forced to resign.

The Washington Times and a number of republican opinion leaders called for Hastert’s resignation over the Foley sex scandal. The Times editorial stated, “Either he was grossly negligent… or he deliberately looked the other way in hopes that a brewing scandal would simply blow away. He gave phony answers Friday to the old and ever-relevant questions of what did he know and when did he know it? Mr. Hastert has forfeited the confidence of the public and his party, and he cannot preside over the necessary coming investigation, an investigation that must examine his own inept performance.”

In the end, Hastert will be most remembered for his ineptitude in maintaining a republican majority in the House, and for his sleazy dealings with fraudsters and conniving and corrupt lobbyists. It is not surprising that Rolling Stone magazine rated him the worst congressman in 2006. He will forever be remembered in the Ethiopian community as the man who hijacked human rights in Ethiopia.