Less than 24 hours before the official start of the 115th Congress, House Republicans voted behind closed doors to all but eliminate the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), an independent office established nearly a decade ago to (ironically) make sure the members of Congress were acting ethically.
In a move reminiscent of disabling the security cameras before robbing a bank, the House GOP held the secret ballot on a national holiday without any advance notice or media presence. In fact, the details of the move only got out after Virginia Rep. and House Judiciary Committee Chair Robert W. Goodlatte announced the House Republican Conference had approved the change.
The independent ethics watchdog, set up in 2008 after corruption scandals sent three Congressmen to jail, investigated complaints or corruption and other misconduct against the members of Congress. However, the recent amendments leave OCE powerless.
Under the new rules, the (ineffective) Ethics Committee would have overseen the once-independent panel, which would have been renamed the Office of Congressional Complaint Review. Moreover, it would no longer have been able to investigate anonymous complaints, employ anyone “for a position involving communications with the public” or release any sort of information — or make a statement — to the public.
In cases where the body were to find a politician guilty, it would not be allowed to contact law enforcement without the approval of the House Ethic Committee. It would also have the power to shut down any investigation.
Luckily, the GOP have been forced to completely overturn their attempt within 24 hours — pretty embarrassing for their first day on the job in 2017.
The surprise vote to cripple one of the most important offices in the nation drew a tsunami of criticism.
Of course President-elect Donald Trump weighed in on Twitter, calling the Office of Congressional Ethics "unfair," but suggesting the GOP's priorities were skewed to dismantle it.
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— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2017
........may be, their number one act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance! #DTS— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2017
“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,” commented House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.”
The New York Times reported that House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and California Rep. Kevin McCarthy also oppose the measure.
The reaction on social media was massive.
House Republicans held a secret vote during a secret meeting on a national holiday in order to eliminate their independent ethics watchdog— igorvolsky (@igorvolsky) January 3, 2017
No press access,no ethics committee. Most powerful country on earth being governed by tweets of a mentally unstable liar. Goodbye Democracy— Rob Reiner (@robreiner) January 3, 2017
Trump Organization has unlimited capacity to collect bribes, and with the ethics office gutted can share largess with members of congress.— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) January 3, 2017
Trump’s cabinet of billionaires & CEOs have ignored gov ethics rules & dragged their feet on FBI background checks & financial disclosures.— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) January 3, 2017
Gutting independent oversight isn't "draining the swamp" https://t.co/WwJiO3FSu4— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) January 3, 2017
House GOP votes to turn independent ethics office into an unread complaint box. Why won't GOP keep their party promise to #DraintheSwamp ?— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) January 3, 2017
The "do nothing" House Republicans have finally done something, and that is opened the doors to more corruption. Trump is really happy now!— Voice of Reason (@raggapegs) January 3, 2017
House Republicans propose to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics, which ain't suprisin' since they never had much use for ethics anyway.— Tea Pain (@TeaPainUSA) January 3, 2017
In a Closed Door Meeting last Nite,The House Republicans,Rolled Back— Cher (@cher) January 3, 2017
“The Independent Ethics Office”.
Now Congress Will…“Police Its Self”????
So if you're a Republican or Trump voter, are you like psyched tonight that ethics and oversight are RIP? (asking for a friend....)— Amy Siskind (@Amy_Siskind) January 3, 2017
The New York Times reported that the GOP Congress was forced to back down with its tail between its legs almost immediately due to the huge outcry against the secret meeting. Outcry from politicians like Ryan, McCarthy, and Pelosi, as well as numerous watchdog groups led to the reversal of the attempt to subvert ethics in Congress.
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Reuters