House Republicans Scrap Plans to Reform Independent Ethics Office
Corey Uhden, Politics Contributor
Want to know how quickly things change in politics? Last night, the House Republicans met to review their proposed rules for the 115th Congress, which convenes today. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia proposed changes that would reduce the independence of the Office of Congressional Ethics. The OCE was created after revelations that notorious lobbyist Jack Abramoff had bribed members of Congress to ignore his transgressions. The newly-elected House Democrats decided that an office to investigate alleged abuses of power needed to be insulated from pressure from the lawmakers themselves.
The OCE has investigated several lawmakers for violations of the public trust and regularly updates the public on their ongoing probes. Members of both parties objected to this transparency, claiming it tarnished their reputations before a full investigation had been completed. Several members led the charge, but Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy loudly objected. However, the measure passed and the press jumped all over the story.
This morning, the matter led all of the major publications and the president-elect tweeted his disapproval. A coalition of groups including the Campaign for Accountability, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the League of Women Voters sent a letter to House Speaker Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi calling for the reauthorization of the OCE. Abramoff himself denounced the effort!
Minutes after returning to their chamber for the new session, House Republicans jetted off to a conference room for an emergency meeting to discuss their options. McCarthy again asked for a vote to jettison the proposal from the rules package set to receive a vote today. The vote was unanimous by voice. Several House Republicans left feigning bewilderment.
Now, any proposed changes to the OCE will have to go through regular order and require the input of both parties rather than passed as part of the rules package on a party line vote. The OCE is one of the only good ideas from Nancy Pelosi’s tenure as Speaker. It is neither redundant or abusive. The fox should not be left to guard the hen house. It’s such a simple principle, it’s a wonder it took so long to establish. Here’s one clear mandate for a reform effort: instead of defanging the office, Congress should empower it to investigate abuses of power in the Senate as well.
You can follow the author on Twitter @CACoreyU