House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy stood by the Republicans’ decision to put a hold on making major changes to the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) Tuesday, saying the modifications should be made in a bipartisan manner.
GOP lawmakers approved the amendment, introduced by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, in a 119-74 vote in conference Monday evening, which was met with an onslaught of push back from Democrats and watchdog organizations. Critics of the Goodlatte amendment expressed their concern over its call to put the OCE under the jurisdiction of the House Committee on Ethics, arguing it diminished the independent body’s power to look into potential ethics violations.
McCarthy, who voiced his opposition to the measure ahead of the conference vote due to its timing, offered a motion to restore the original OCE rules Tuesday — shortly after President-elect Donald Trump denounced the “weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog” on Twitter. The California Republican said the tweet did not influence his decision to halt the changes, noting he made the same argument the previous night.
“I always just thought, you look at the task force about the reforms that are needed, and it’s better to do it bipartisan,” he told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Last night, these are things I told people, from the standpoint it’s better people see the process and are apart of it.”
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise echoed McCarthy’s sentiments about the amendment, adding he’s encouraged GOP leadership and Trump agree on the issue.
“I mean our leadership team was against doing it in the way that it was done initially, and I’m glad we’re on the same page with him,” Scalise told TheDCNF.
He said the proper precautions should be taken to assure the changes made are the right ones, noting members didn’t have much time to review the language.
“Well, our members wanted to make sure that we were all on the same page on the reforms that we got into the rules package,” Scalise told TheDCNF. “Work has been going into the changes [to the rules package] for months and then this OCE issue came up at the last-minute, and obviously there is a lot of interest in making sure that office isn’t a political witch-hunt organization. I think there are some reforms that would be important, but it needs to be done in a way that makes sure it’s focused.”
GOP Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent, a former House Ethics Committee chairman, said he was concerned by the ambiguous language laying out how the committee would oversee the OCE, adding there were certain provisions that would likely enjoy bipartisan support.
“I’ll just say the oversight provision was problematic, that was problematic in my opinion,” he told reporters. “Well, it is independent, and that was the point, it was unclear just what that meant — I think the intent of Goodlatte was not to fold the OCE into the Committee on Ethics, that was not his intent, but it’s not clear what he was doing there.”
Lawmakers were expected to vote on the measure Tuesday.
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