The Will Of The People Prevails, Media Hands Victory To Trump — An Inside Look At The Ethics Vote
Late Monday, against the will of their leadership and unbeknownst to both Democrats and the general public, House Republicans convened in secret to take steps toward significantly weakening the Office of Congressional Ethics.
The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) is an independent agency that was established in 2008 after a series of corruption scandals sent three congressmen to jail. The OCE has the power to investigate members of the House of Representatives, and their staff, who have been accused of wrongdoing or violating congressional norms. Currently, the organization is comprised of a small team of eight coming from backgrounds in law, public service, politics and the military.
What House Republicans hoped to achieve on the first day of the 115th Congress, was to rid the office of it’s independence, marking the start of the repealing of policies that were put in place during the Obama administration. More specifically, Republicans wanted to oversee the creation of a new Office of Congressional Complaint Review that would report to the House Ethics Committee; which essentially means that the public would have to trust that lawmakers would faithfully police themselves.
This amendment to the OCE was spearheaded by House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), and was approved in a 119–74 vote among republicans. Here is Goodlatte’s full statement on the amendment:
“The amendment builds upon and strengthens the existing Office of Congressional Ethics by maintaining its primary area of focus of accepting and reviewing complaints from the public and referring them, if appropriate, to the Committee on Ethics. It also improves upon due process rights for individuals under investigation, as well as witnesses called to testify. The OCE has a serious and important role in the House, and this amendment does nothing to impede their work.”
However, prominent House Republicans, such as Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.), were not on board with the proposed amendment, and called for a more bipartisan approach to reforming the Office of Congressional Ethics, according to sources who were at the secretive meeting.
Democrats and ethics watchdogs also responded to the news, calling out republicans for wanting to strip the OCE of it’s power. A prominent ethics watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, reprimanded the decision in a statement Monday:
“Undermining the independence of the House’s Office of Congressional Ethics would create a serious risk to members of Congress, who rely on OCE for fair, nonpartisan investigations, and to the American people, who expect their representatives to meet their legal and ethical obligations…. If the 115th Congress begins with rules amendments undermining OCE, it is setting itself up to be dogged by scandals and ethics issues for years and is returning the House to dark days when ethics violations were rampant and far too often tolerated.”
Nancy Pelosi also condemned the proposed rules amendment in a statement Monday:
“Republicans claim they want to ‘drain the swamp,’ but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House GOP has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions. Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.
“The Office of Congressional Ethics is essential to an effective ethics process in the House, providing a vital element of transparency and accountability to the ethics process. The amendment Republicans approved tonight would functionally destroy this office.”
President-elect Donald Trump decided on Tuesday to show the Republican party who was really in charge, when Trump tweeted out that he was against making the weakening of the Office of Congressional Ethics a priority.
With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it
may be, their number one act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance! #DTS
Shortly after Trump’s tweets, House Republicans withdrew the amendment that would have stripped the OCE of their power. And shortly after that, the media lauded Trump in their headlines as the sole-cause for the republican reversal.
Though what many may rightfully argue, is that it was the will of the people that caused House Republicans to abandon their efforts, and that Trump’s tweets were nothing short of opportunistic.
This House ethics drama was an absolute gift to @realDonaldTrump-a big, fat zeppelin for him to shoot down. Which he did.
Most members tell me blizzard of angry constituent calls were most impt factor in getting the House to sideline the amdt
It was reported that the phones in congressional offices were ringing with such frequency that House Republican’s were forced to hold a closed door meeting.
House GOP now in closed door meeting. Rep Walter Jones R-NC says his office swamped with calls on ethics changes
It was after this meeting that the decision was made not to go forward with the gutting of the OCE. Evidence for whether or not Trump’s disdain was the deciding factor in this remains to be seen.