OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Go-along Hill rides again

If Sam Rayburn knew what he was talking about 70 or so years ago, then U.S. Rep. French Hill surely is getting along very well in Congress these days.

Rayburn was the longest-serving speaker of the House. He served in the office for 17 years whenever Democrats were in charge from 1940 to 1961.

Along the way, he famously said that a member of Congress had to go along, at least sometimes, to get along.

Hill, the banker and establishment Republican from Little Rock who serves in Congress from the 2nd District of central Arkansas, has been mastering the go-along lately.

In the recent speaker of the House spectacle, Hill was a Kevin McCarthy man who got quoted by The Washington Post as asking McCarthy's prospective successor, Jim Jordan, whether he still denied the outcome of the presidential race of 2020. Presumably that was important to Hill in that he preferred that Jordan soften his devotion to Donald Trump's violence-stirring madness.

Except it turned out not to matter to him. Jordan evaded the question in the caucus meeting where Hill asked it, and Hill went ahead to support him for speaker.

Why did he do that? Hill said it was because House Republicans needed a speaker and Jordan had the most support in the GOP caucus.

In other words, Hill cared less about an election-denying speaker than about letting the majority of his party colleagues in Congress dictate his vote.

Then, last week, Hill made himself conspicuous in the generally undistinguished Arkansas delegation in the House. He, alone among the four Trumpers in the House of Representatives from Arkansas, voted against expelling George Santos for breathtaking fraud, lies and criminal charges not yet brought to trial but substantiated by the House's own ethics investigation.

Other than fabricating his entire biography, Santos' main transgression among many was saying he'd loaned his campaign money when he hadn't, then paying himself back from campaign money provided by donors for these loans he hadn't made. Then he used those funds from donors for personal purposes.

Womack voted to expel. Bruce Westerman did too. Rick Crawford, who missed the vote, said he'd had a personal obligation at the time of the vote, but that Santos' removal was warranted.

And French Hill? He had said days before that he wished Santos would resign. But, when it came to expulsion, he voted "no."

He said it was bad precedent to expel a member on charges prior to his conviction on those charges.

Santos got expelled by Democratic votes and 105 Republican ones. There were 112 Republican votes cast against expulsion, including from new House Speaker Mike Johnson, and, of course, the go-along from Arkansas.

Again, Hill appeared to have joined the majority side of his partisan colleagues, and, notably, the party leadership. He went along to get along.

Perhaps he acted from fear of far-right primary opposition back home that could weaken him for a general election in which he needs strong base support. He still has most of the heavily Democratic Pulaski County to deal with.

He pulled away from close general-election races with Clarke Tucker and Joyce Elliott when targeted word got out late to the right wing that there was a devoted Trumper needing help.

The point of keeping Santos for Republicans was that that their majority was slim and opening his seat risked a Democratic gain.

Contrast Hill's explanation of his vote on Santos with the statement put out by a certain principled if irrelevant Republican politician.

Asa Hutchinson said as follows: "The expulsion of Rep. George Santos by the House of Representatives was the right thing to do. The office held (or sought) and the public good are greater than the individual. The presumption of innocence is not a defense to public accountability."

What Hutchinson was saying is that not having had to go to trial yet on 23 criminal charges that stand confirmed and exceeded by an ethics investigation of one's own party is not sufficient qualification for service in the U.S. House of Representatives.

He was saying the bar for accountability in public service should be a little higher than not being in jail ... yet.

It is true that a man is innocent until proven guilty. But it's also true a man can be a demonstrable disgrace before the jury verdict.

Of course, Asa hasn't been getting along too well in Republican politics lately. He holds the unpopular view that Republican allegiance to Donald Trump should not be based on resentment of his prosecution but on what we all can plainly see absent a trial or conviction.

In the Santos affair, Hill's position seems cowardly. It is that Santos shouldn't be in Congress, but only if Santos agrees on that and takes French off the hook.

Failing that, Hill went along.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected]. Read his @johnbrummett feed on X, formerly Twitter.

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