WASHINGTON — After three hours of uncommonly rancorous debate, the House voted overwhelmingly Thursday to formally reprimand Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), one of two openly gay congressmen, for ethics violations stemming from his relationship with a male prostitute.
The 408-18 vote came after the House easily turned aside attempts by some Republicans to impose the harsher penalties of censure or expulsion on Frank.
In an emotional speech on the House floor, Frank apologized to his colleagues. "These mistakes were mine. . . . All mine," he said. "I should have known better. Now I do. But it's a little too late."
Frank, 50, attributed his ethical problems to a 34-year effort to keep secret his homosexuality, an effort that Frank abandoned three years ago with a public announcement that he is gay.
"Three years ago I decided that concealment did not work," Frank told members who packed the House chamber. "I wish I had decided it earlier."
After the votes, Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the House Ethics Committee, told reporters: "I'm very pleased the (House) stayed with the committee."
The debate over Frank often turned into a heated exchange over moral and cultural values.
"What's going on in America is a cultural war," said Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton), who is one of the most severe congressional critics of homosexuality and homosexual activism. "Do we tolerate, do we condone a member of this body who knowingly permits a house of prostitution to be operated out of his residence?"
Dixon, however, said of Frank: "I think he indicated he made a serious mistake but he wanted to let people know why he had done so, and that is because he is a gay person."
The Ethics Committee recommended a reprimand for Frank last Friday in a 57-page report that capped a 10-month investigation of Frank's relationship with admitted prostitute Stephen L. Gobie, whom Frank had placed on his personal staff at his own expense.
A reprimand is the least serious of three punishments that the full House can administer, followed by censure and expulsion. Reprimand and censure require majority votes, while it takes two-thirds of the House to expel a member.
The Ethics Committee found that Frank had acted improperly by fixing 33 parking tickets, largely accumulated by Gobie while he drove Frank's car on personal business. In addition, the committee found that Frank wrote a 1986 memorandum on Gobie's behalf that contained "misleading statements" about Gobie and his relationship with Frank. The memorandum ultimately wound up in the files of a Virginia prosecutor.
Specifically, Frank wrote that he met Gobie through mutual friends, when in fact their relationship began in 1985 after Frank contacted Gobie through a male escort service. And Frank said in the letter that Gobie was adhering to the terms of his probation on drug and sodomy charges, when Frank in fact knew that Gobie continued to work as a prostitute.
But the committee rejected charges that Frank knew Gobie was using his Capitol Hill townhouse as a base for a prostitution ring.
That assertion was rejected by Dannemeyer, who introduced a motion calling on the House to expel Frank. The Dannemeyer motion ultimately was defeated, 390 to 38.
Members of the California delegation who voted for expulsion along with Dannemeyer were Reps. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), Wally Herger (R-Yuba City), Duncan L. Hunter (R-Coronado), Carlos J. Moorhead (R-Glendale), Ron Packard (R-Carlsbad) and Norman D. Shumway (R-Stockton).
Later, a motion offered by House Republican Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) that would have had the effect of censuring Frank failed, 287 to 141. Despite Gingrich's call for tougher sanctions, he termed the proceedings "tragic" and said that Frank "has been one of our brightest and most energetic members."
Only four representatives have ever been expelled, three of whom were rebel sympathizers at the outset of the Civil War. The House has censured 22 members and reprimanded six.
Dornan was among the members who joined Dannemeyer in attacking Frank.
"My brother's a high school teacher. . . . This would have destroyed his career, anything even remotely resembling it," Dornan told Frank. "My prior careers: As an Air Force officer--Out! Finished! As a broadcaster on television, if I wouldn't resign, I'd be fired. . . . I am going to vote for expulsion because you didn't have the honor and decency to resign."
Dannemeyer's assertion that the Ethics Committee had ignored evidence that Frank knew Gobie was using his home for prostitution brought an emotional response from Dixon.
"You have just heard the most edited, selected garbage that's ever been put forth, in my opinion, in this House," Dixon said, his voice rising. Dannemeyer "insults the intelligence and literacy of the members . . . who have read the (committee's) report," he added.
Dixon also complained that Dannemeyer, in a letter circulated Wednesday to members of the House, had revealed the names of several "innocent witnesses" involved in the Frank case--names that Dixon's committee had attempted to keep secret.
"Mr. Dannemeyer, you have done a mean and evil thing," Dixon said.
At a press conference after the votes, Frank said that he believes Dannemeyer's attempt to expel him was due largely to the fact that he is a homosexual.
"There is something about homosexuality that sets Mr. Dannemeyer to vibrating, I don't know what it is," Frank said. He added later: "I think that there is a growing sentiment in the House of Representatives that Mr. Dannemeyer and reality only rarely coincide."