In their last official act, House Republicans of the 114th Congress voted to eliminate the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), deciding they can police their own behavior.
In a closed-door session, GOP members of Congress voted 119-74 to gut the independent review of their own misconduct.
Under the proposal passed by Republicans, the OCE will be barred from reviewing any violation of criminal law by members of Congress, requiring that it turn over complaints to the House Ethics Committee or refer the matter to a federal law enforcement agency. The House Ethics Committee would also have the sole power to stop an investigation at any point. Additionally, the new system would bar the ethics office from making any public statements about any matters regarding investigations of members of Congress.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi issued a statement in which she noted:
“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. Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.
“The amendment Republicans approved tonight would functionally destroy this office.”
Virginia GOP Congressman Bob Goodlatte, who sponsored the measure which guts the OCE, attempted to defend the change, saying:
“There should be no entity in the entire federal government that doesn’t have review by some committee of the Congress so that’s all it sets up is oversight. It still has its designated statutory responsibilities. It has some new rules that it has to follow but it still is empowered to take complaints from individuals as it was intended to do and investigate those complaints but every agency of the government whether it’s executive, legislative or judicial should have a committee that reviews it’s work.”
Norman Eisen and Richard Painter, of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit watchdog group, said the move by Republicans is the wrong message to send as the GOP prepares to take control of Washington:
“If the 115th Congress begins with rules amendments undermining (the ethics office), it is setting itself up to be dogged by scandals and ethics issues for years and is returning the House to dark days when ethics violations were rampant and far too often tolerated.”
The swamp isn’t being drained. Instead, it’s being stocked with creatures who can do as they please and answer to no one, not even the taxpayers who pay their salaries.
UPDATE: Facing criticism from their constituents and Donald Trump, House Republicans have temporarily withdrawn their plan to shutter the independent Office of Congressional Ethics. Robert Costa of the Washington Post reports:
Members spilling out of HC-5. Say the OCE change is dead for now but not forever. Many want to return to this issue soon…
— Robert Costa (@costareports) January 3, 2017
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