Donald Trump is not even in office, but the president-elect and Republican Party are already getting off on the wrong foot.
After a late night session of Congress, the Republican Party spearheaded a vote to “gut” a long-standing Congressional watchdog.
The Office of Congressional Ethics was created in 2008 as a “semi-independent” body in charge of investigated misconduct and corruption. The New York Times reported:
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 move essentially means that the Congressional watchdog would have to clear all investigations with the House Ethics Committee, as well as the ending of anonymous tips from potential whistleblowers.
As the Times points out, the timing was publicly opposed by Speaker Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy:
Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the majority leader, spoke out during the meeting to oppose the measure, aides said on Monday night. The full House is scheduled to vote on Tuesday on the rules, which would last for two years, until the next congressional elections.
Donald Trump lit into the House GOP for its misplaced priorities:
#DTS, referring to “Drain the Swamp,” has been a stated objective of the incoming Trump administration, and refers to the ending of perquisites and corruption for bureaucrats and members of Congress.
Kellyanne Conway, a former Trump campaign manager and future counselor to the president, elaborated on Congress's rationale behind the move.
“The abuse of the process has led to some of those being investigated — either House members, or their staffers and witnesses — some have complained they've been denied or have had their due process rights compromised,” Conway said.
“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,” former Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.”
Speaker Paul Ryan released a formal statement on the vote:
With the amendment adopted last night, the bipartisan, evenly-divided House Ethics Committee will now have oversight of the complaints office. But the Office is not controlled by the Committee, and I expect that oversight authority to be exercised solely to ensure the Office is properly following its rules and laws, just as any government entity should. I have made clear to the new Chair of the House Ethics Committee that it is not to interfere with the Office’s investigations or prevent it from doing its job.
Ryan's statement appears to be a signal that the House GOP could be walking back its vote, which would have tightly leashed the Congressional watchdog.
The public exchange between Trump and the GOP House is just a reminder that the Democratic Party is not the only one in for a confrontation after the new president is sworn into office in just under three weeks.
Update: After intense public pressure, and re-consideration, the Republican Party has voted behind closed doors to scrap the ethics rules changes regarding the OCE.
Facing fierce criticism from members of both parties — including President-Elect Donald Trump — House Republicans backed down Tuesday from an attempt to gut an independent ethics office that investigates House lawmakers and staff accused of misconduct.
The decision to scrap changes to the ethics office came during an emergency GOP conference meeting Tuesday morning. Just hours earlier, Trump fired off a pair of tweets criticizing the timing of the Monday-night vote by House Republicans to place the Office of Congressional Ethics, known as OCE, under the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee.
From time to time, public shaming works.