In an abrupt move made without the backing of their leaders, Republicans in the House of Representatives plan to dramatically scale back an independent congressional ethics office created eight years ago.
The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) was created eight years ago, in the wake of several high-profile congressional scandals. OCE is designed to have a non-partisan structure, and it operates independently of Congress. While the office has very little power, it has often released reports critical of ethical lapses by various congressmen.
But in an internal 119-74 vote during a party conference meeting Monday, House GOP members voted to rename OCE to the Office of Congressional Complaint Review, and place it under the control of the House Ethics Committee. The new rules also prohibit investigations based on anonymous allegations, allow the ethics committee to torpedo an ongoing investigation, and bar OCE from making public statements. Collectively, the rules greatly nullify OCE’s effectiveness, which was already quite limited (the office didn’t even have a subpoena power).
The GOP vote doesn’t immediately modify OCE. Instead, Monday’s vote means the amendment will be included in a rules package the full House is expected to vote on Tuesday. The OCE will likely be gutted in the upcoming Congress, unless some of the 74 dissenting Republicans rebel and refuse to pass the new rules package.
Notably, both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy opposed the amendment, but they were overruled by the mass of GOP congressmen beneath them, many of whom have grumbled about OCE’s activities for years.
Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia defended the amended rules, saying the reformed OCE would still have power while sitting Congressmen would be better able to protect themselves from overzealous investigations.
Unsurprisingly, Democrats have pounced, saying the move is a betrayal of President-elect Donald Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp.”
“The House GOP has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said, according to The Washington Post. “Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.”
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