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Letter from Washington | Alicia Mundy
Hastert's secret list has hill buzzing over his Pasco protégé
Seattle Times Washington bureau
Doc Hastings, speaker of the House? People lingering around the Capitol during the pre-election recess recently began mouthing that phrase, though uncertainly.
It's all because of recent reports in Roll Call and The Washington Post about the existence of a secret list of those the current speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, has named as his potential successors in the event of a disaster.
The list is controversial and, at least one congressional scholar says, may be unconstitutional.
It was devised to ensure a calm transition if terrorists were to hit the Hill and Congress couldn't quickly elect a new speaker, as spelled out in the Constitution.
But these days, the disaster most likely to hit Hastert, R-Ill., is the Mark Foley scandal involving sexually explicit e-mails to underage congressional pages.
The speculation is that Hastert, who likes those who like him, named reliable GOP members to the list.
At the moment, Hastert is in a public dispute with the House Majority Leader, John Boehner of Ohio, and not exactly hugging the next most powerful Republican, House Whip Roy Blunt.
But when members say "Hastert loyalist," they frequently say "Doc Hastings."
Hastings, R-Pasco, became Hastert's protégé several years ago.
In 2005, Hastert put Hastings in charge of the Ethics Committee during the scandals involving former Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas and lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Hastings also moved up in seniority on the Rules Committee, a panel that helps decide which bills get to a vote.
Hastert's office will not say who is on the list, as a matter of national security.
The list was created about four years ago, but is in the news now because of questions over Hastert's handling of complaints about Foley a year ago.
Hastings, as the Ethics Committee chairman, is in charge of the Foley investigation, including how complaints against Foley were handled.
Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein has complained that Hastings is too close to Hastert to investigate him. Ornstein added: "Hastings is likely somewhere on that list."
If you are troubled that America might have a secret line of succession, you are not alone. Rep. Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, says, "It is unconstitutional," and Ornstein agrees.
Baird worked with Ornstein in 2003 to devise a bill guaranteeing continuity of government in the wake of national tragedy.
"Would this secret appointment put this person in line to become president?" Baird asked. "That is fundamentally against an open government."
Hastings' office would not comment on the list. But if he were to become speaker, it would ensure continuity in at least one way. They could keep any monogrammed hand towels in the speaker's washroom.
Letter from Washington is an examination of the culture of politics and power in the nation's capital. Alicia Mundy can be reached at 202-622-7457 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company