House Republicans, facing a storm of bipartisan criticism, including from President-elect Donald J. Trump, moved early Tuesday afternoon to reverse their plan to kill the Office of Congressional Ethics. It was an embarrassing turnabout on the first day of business for the new Congress, a day when party leaders were hoping for a show of force to reverse policies of the Obama administration.
The reversal came less than 24 hours after House Republicans, meeting in a secret session, voted, over the objections of Speaker Paul D. Ryan, to eliminate the independent ethics office. It was created in 2008 in the aftermath of a series of scandals involving House lawmakers, including three who were sent to jail.
Mr. Trump criticized House Republicans on Tuesday for their move to gut the office, saying they should focus instead on domestic policy priorities such as health care and a tax overhaul.
And so it begins – the very first vote the newly installed House Republicans take is a vote to encourage the next generation of Jack Abramoffs. Amazingly brazen, why else conduct this vote in secret, on a national holiday no less? Symbolic, and telegraphing where the GOP wants to focus their energy – on looting the public trough, without consequence…
House Republicans have gutted an independent ethics watchdog, putting it under their own control, in a secret ballot hours before the new Congress convened for the first time.
The unheralded vote severely weakens the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), which was set up after a lobbying scandal in 2008 to investigate corruption allegations against members of Congress. The move, led by the head of the House judiciary committee, defied the Republican congressional leadership and was reportedly supported by several legislators currently under OCE scrutiny.
Republicans’ plan to erase Obama legacy starts with chipping away at Obamacare Read more The amendment was voted through by the House Republican conference over the New Year’s holiday with no prior notice or debate and inserted in a broad rules package the House will vote for on Tuesday. It turns the formerly independent OCE into the Office of Congressional Complaint Review, a subordinate body to the House Ethics Committee, which is currently run by the Republican majority and has a long history of overlooking charges of malfeasance by lawmakers.
The new body will not be able to receive anonymous tips from members of Congress or make its findings public.
The vote comes at a time when the Republicans control all three branches of government and are seeking to remove some of the residual constraints on their powers.
What reason do they have to hide their actions? Draining the swamp in the dark I guess
But the House Ethics Committee, even if it dismisses the potential ethics violation as unfounded, is required to release the Office of Congressional Ethics report detailing the alleged wrongdoing, creating a deterrent to such questionable behavior by lawmakers.
Under the new arrangement, the Office of Congressional Complaint Review could not take anonymous complaints, and all of its investigations would be overseen by the House Ethics Committee itself, which is made up of lawmakers who answer to their own party.
The Office of Congressional Complaint Review would also have special rules to “better safeguard the exercise of due process rights of both subject and witness,” Mr. Goodlatte said. The provision most likely reflects complaints by certain lawmakers that the ethics office’s staff investigations were at times too aggressive, an allegation that watchdog groups dismissed as evidence that lawmakers were just trying to protect themselves.
“O.C.E. is one of the outstanding ethics accomplishments of the House of Representatives, and it has played a critical role in seeing that the congressional ethics process is no longer viewed as merely a means to sweep problems under the rug,” said a statement from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, an ethics watchdog group that has filed many complaints with the Office of Congressional Ethics
Talking Points Memo is trying to figure out how the little creeps actually voted:
As I noted last night, the House GOP caucus just voted to kill the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (it loses its independence and now needs Congress’s permission to investigate anyone or report anything it finds). But the vote is secret. But you can find out! Yes, you can! If you live in a district represented by a Republican member of Congress you can call their office and ask how they voted on the Goodlatte proposal. Here are the details of what happened. And here’s an example of how we did this back the last time something like this happened back in 2004.
Call your Republican Rep. and ask how the member voted on the Goodlatte proposal. Remember, always be polite and courtesy. You’re not speaking to the member. You’re more than likely speaking to a junior staffer who is just their to do their job. Being polite but firm is not only more effective it’s just the right thing to do.
Remember Trump’s on-board with Ryan on this (even though Ryan nominally warned against the decision). Kellyanne Conway said this morning on GMA that ditching oversight was necessary because “There’s been an overzealousness in some of the processes over the years.”
As I wrote last night, the last time the GOP achieved unified Republican control in Washington, their first move was to loosen ethics oversight. First they pushed through the “DeLay Rule”, which allowed House leaders to stay1 in their leadership roles while under indictment. A couple months later, when putting through the rules for the new Congress (the same step that happened last night), they created another new rule which held that any question that deadlocked the Ethics Committee was automatically dismissed. In other words, unless a member of the party of the person being investigated was willing to support the investigation, it was automatically dismissed.
I think we should start referring to our nation as America-stan…
It Pays to Play
and a bit of history from Josh Marshall:
Before we get to what happened this evening, a bit more background. When the Democrats took back control of the House in the 2006 wave election, they did so with the rampant corruption of the congressional GOP as one of their major campaign themes. So in the Spring of 2008 they created Office of Congressional Ethics, a congressional oversight office which was independent of the members themselves. The House Ethics Committee is supposed to handle ethics questions. But it’s run by members and was generally as good at sweeping ethics issues under the rug as addressing them. More generously, in an era of intense partisanship, it was often simply un-runnable. In any case, the OCE was able to do a lot of things the Ethics Committee could not. It could look into anything it wanted to. It could issue recommendations to the Ethics Committee.
This may all seem a bit like inside baseball. But in the world of oversight, it was actually a pretty big step in having someone with some actual power keeping an eye on members.
…in a sort of kick off to the Trump Era, the House GOP Caucus voted to put the OCE back under the authority of the Ethics Committee, which of course has a GOP Chair. Basically that means abolishing the OCE since the whole point of the OCE is that it’s independent of the Committee. One of the sales’ points for this new set up is that it “provide[s] protection [for Members of Congress] against disclosures to the public or other government entities” of the results of any investigations. In other words, if wrongdoing is found the newly-neutered OCE can’t tell anyone. Awesome. They can’t have a press person, issue reports, do anything without the say of the Ethics Committee. In other words, the whole thing is a joke, both the new version of the OCE (now the ““Office of Congressional Complaint Review”) and this whole move. But it’s the Trump Era. Members want to get down to business, get their piece of the action and not have anyone giving them any crap. Just like the big cheese down Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s the Trump Era.
Now, here’s the good part, as it was with the DeLay Rule, the vote is secret. Why? Because this is a caucus vote, i.e., not an actual congressional vote. Let me digress for a moment and explain just one more bit of detail. With each new Congress the majority puts together a bundle of rules that will govern how the House works during that Congress. Mostly this just puts the old rules back in place. But there are always a few changes. All those rules get bundled into one bill and it’s the first thing or one of the first to get voted on. That bill gets approved on a party line vote, just like the Speaker gets elected. If the caucus votes for it, it’s a sure thing. So even though this was just a secret caucus vote, in effect it is binding as law since all Republicans will vote for it in the official vote.