House Republicans, overriding their top leaders, voted on Monday to significantly curtail the power of an independent ethics office set up in 2008 in the aftermath of corruption scandals that sent three members of Congress to jail.
The move to effectively kill the Office of Congressional Ethics was not made public until late Monday, when Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announced that the House Republican Conference had approved the change. There was no advance notice or debate on the measure.
The surprising vote came on the eve of the start of a new session of Congress, where emboldened Republicans are ready to push an ambitious agenda on everything from health care to infrastructure, issues that will be the subject of intense lobbying from corporate interests. The House Republicans’ move would take away both power and independence from an investigative body, and give lawmakers more control over internal inquiries.
Politico‘s report says in part:
In one of their first moves of the new Congress, House Republicans have voted to gut their own independent ethics watchdog — a huge blow to cheerleaders of congressional oversight and one that dismantles major reforms adopted after the Jack Abramoff scandal.
Monday’s effort was led, in part, by lawmakers who have come under investigation in recent years.
Despite a warning from Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Republicans adopted a proposal by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) to put the Office of Congressional Ethics under the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee.
The office currently has free rein, enabling investigators to pursue allegations and then recommend further action to the House Ethics Committee as they see fit.
Now, the office would be under the thumb of lawmakers themselves. The proposal also appears to limit the scope of the office’s work by barring them from considering anonymous tips against lawmakers. And it would stop the office from disclosing the findings of some of their investigations, as they currently do after the recommendations go to House Ethics.
The new Office of Congressional Ethics can’t release information to public. Or have a spokesperson. No communication. In any way. Got it? pic.twitter.com/BCVDjn3SmY
— Matt Viser (@mviser) January 3, 2017
Look, I have no problem believing that the OCE ought to have been better run. (Not that I do believe it, only that the claim is plausible.) But to abolish it, and to replace it with this People’s Republic-style puppet office? Are they crazy? This is the lesson a majority of House Republicans learned from the 2016 election: that the voters want members of Congress to be less accountable for their actions, and to make it easier for themselves to milk the system and get away with it?
Every single Republican member who voted in favor of this proposal ought to face a primary challenge in 2018. Again, I am willing to consider the argument that the OCE overstepped its bounds and needed to be reigned in. But to have the first headline-making act of the House Republicans in the Trump era be gutting the House ethics watchdog sends a signal that as far at the GOP on that side of the Hill is concerned, it’s pigs-at-the-trough time? It’s politically idiotic. Do they not grasp how despised and distrusted the governing class is?
You want to return the Democrats to power by showing that Republicans cannot be trusted with it? This is a good first move.
UPDATE: After Trump blasted the GOP Congressional move in a tweet this morning, House Republicans decided to retreat. Good for Trump! You don’t have to believe that good government is near and dear to Trump’s heart to recognize his skill at reading the political moment, and acting accordingly. He’s just put Congress on notice that he will go to the people against them if he sees it in his interest. Impressive.