Without Warning or Public Input, House Republicans Vote to Dismantle Ethics Oversight Office

A new Republican-led Congress meets today. In one of the first moves, House Republicans have voted to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics, dismantling reforms adopted after a previous Republican ethics scandal. The vote reportedly came as a surprise and without the support of House Speaker Paul Ryan or Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. The full House is scheduled to vote later today.

Under the measure, the Office of Congressional Ethics will be renamed the Office of Congressional Complaint Review and placed under the oversight of the House Ethics Committee. The move takes away authority and independence from the investigative body and gives more power to lawmakers over internal inquiries. According to The Washington Post, under new rules, the office will not be able to employ a spokesperson, investigate anonymous tips or refer criminal wrongdoing to prosecutors without the express consent of the Ethics Committee, which would also gain the power to end any of the office’s investigations. The measure’s sponsor, Republican Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, said in a statement the move, “builds upon and strengthens the current arrangement and improves the due process rights for the House members under investigation.”

Craig Holman talking:

this was a midnight rules change that caught everybody by surprise last night. No doubt, the Republicans in Congress understand that the public would view this with a great deal of hostility, and so they snuck it through last night. So, we had been assured by the Republican caucus over the last two weeks that the Office of Congressional Ethics was going to be kept intact and reauthorized in the new year, in the new session. And then, suddenly, last night, we’re receiving tweets that the Republicans in Congress changed their mind. They suddenly accepted this amendment to neuter the Office of Congressional Ethics and place it under the control of the House Ethics Committee, which means, by the way, placing it under control of members of Congress themselves. This caught us entirely by surprise.

I’ve got to find out more about Paul Ryan’s stance. But the fact that the Republican caucus approved this last night as part of the rules package, I’ve got to hold Paul Ryan responsible, as well. I understand that Paul Ryan and the Republican leadership would perceive this as being negative publicity for them. And it indeed shall be. But, you know, in the end, the Republicans—the Republican caucus did approve this. They’re accepting it as part of the new rules change. And within just a couple hours, they’re going to make it law of the House of Representatives. Paul Ryan’s got to be held accountable for this, along with the entire Republican Conference.

Let me emphasize how big a change this is. The House Ethics Committee is a committee that is controlled by members of Congress that oversees themselves. They historically have done literally nothing but sweep ethics complaints under the rug and hide them from public view. Following the Jack Abramoff scandals, we created the Office of Congressional Ethics, that is run by outsiders, not members of Congress, and made sure that their reports and analysis would become public so you and I could actually monitor what’s going on in terms of ethics when it comes to the House of Representatives. Literally, once we created OCE in 2008, the number of actions taken by the House Ethics Committee in the House ethics process literally quadrupled in that short period of time over the entire history of the House Ethics Committee. That’s how important OCE is to the ethics process. And the only—the only people who have despised OCE are the members of Congress themselves. And just last night, they have neutered this agency.

Jack Abramoff was considered the uber-lobbyist of the time. But, quite frankly, you know, he was typical of K Street lobbyists. They literally had very close relations with congressional leaders, and they worked in tandem with congressional leaders. So Jack Abramoff would fly members of Congress, congressional leaders, to Scotland to play golf. He had a restaurant right across the street from here called Signatures Restaurant, where he had a table set aside for free wining and dining of any members of Congress who wanted to partake. Literally, he was using money, he was using gifts, he was using travel, to buy control over the House of Representatives.

And it worked. The House Ethics Committee never stepped in to deal with Jack Abramoff. It was the Department of Justice that finally had to step in and charge Jack with bribery, before we could finally get this under control, which is why we knew it was so important to create a new independent agency that would be outside the control of members of Congress to monitor the ethics process of the House of Representatives.

It defeats the entire purpose and operations of OCE. First of all, it puts members of Congress once again smack dab in control of the ethics monitoring process. And secondly, it takes away the public disclosures of any type of investigation or complaint that OCE might be—might be dealing with. So, we go back to the old Jack Abramoff era of members of Congress overseeing themselves and not letting us know what’s going on.

It’s highly likely the Republicans are going to ratify this. Since they ratified it last night as a midnight rules change, it’s going to be the very first order of business at 10:00 a.m. this morning. And the House cannot operate until it—until it ratifies its new House rules. This is the rules package. It was brought on so late so—to make it very difficult for the public to try to intervene and prevent this action from happening. So, it’s almost a done deal at this point. At 10:00 a.m., it will be a done deal.

And by the way, it caught us so much by surprise, because, you know, the entire reform community—and by “reform community,” I’m including conservative groups, like Judicial Watch, National Taxpayers Association; progressive groups, like Public Citizen, Common Cause; nonpartisan groups, like League of Women Voters. We have all, every session, got together to try to make sure that OCE would be reauthorized with each session. When we had Speaker Boehner and Nancy Pelosi as the leadership, we were assured it was going to happen. We were a little concerned this time, because we had a new figure in there—Paul Ryan—and we did not know where Paul Ryan was going to come out on this. So, about two weeks ago, all our groups submitted a letter to Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi pointing out how valuable OCE is and asking that it be reauthorized. And we were reassured that it would be reauthorized. So, we weren’t concerned, until suddenly—suddenly, last night, when the House Republicans backpedaled on this, rewrote the rules and are now about to neuter the OCE.
____

Craig Holman
Public Citizen’s government affairs lobbyist.

— source democracynow.org

After Widespread Outrage, Republicans Ditch Effort to Gut Ethics Office

Republican senators backed down Tuesday from a plan to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics, following widespread outcry from the public. If the rule change had gone through, it would have been the very first move enacted by the new Republican-controlled Congress. But the effort quickly fell apart Tuesday, as lawmakers’ offices were inundated by calls from an angry public and President-elect Donald Trump took to Twitter, calling the ethics office “unfair” but encouraging Republicans to “Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance!”

[but india, Modi removing all rules and customs for the last 60 years, but no response from people. he even removed 86% of currency. no comments.]

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