On Monday night, House Republicans voted to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics without public notice or debate. This will effectively put Congress in charge of overseeing itself rather than worrying about a non-partisan entity that punishes wrongdoing. Speaker Paul Ryan reportedly opposed the move, which will remove the independence of the ethics office that was created by Democrats in 2008 following the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.
The independent panel will be replaced by an Office of Congressional Complaint Review, which won’t be able to punish lawmakers and will function under a different structure. Representative Robert Goodlatte announced the House GOP’s decision after a closed-door talk that included resistance by not only Ryan but Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. The entire House will vote on the change on Tuesday, and here’s what’s at stake:
The proposal would bar the panel from reviewing any violation of criminal law by members of Congress, requiring that it turn over any complaint to the House Ethics Committee or refer the matter to an appropriate federal law enforcement agency. The House Ethics Committee would also have the power to stop an investigation at any point and bars the ethics office from making any public statements about any matters or hiring any communications staff.
And the ethics office would no longer be able to accept or investigate any anonymous reports of alleged wrongdoing by members of Congress.
Tuesday shall be the start of a new Congressional session that’s already off with a bang. The New York Times reads this as a sign of “emboldened Republicans” who are getting ready for some big changes. And this should be no surprise, given that the boldest, brashest candidate in recent memory won the presidency. According to incoming Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Trump plans to immediately repeal “a raft” of President Obama’s executive actions after setting foot in the Oval Office.
Goodlatte has defended the change by claiming that this new structure improves due process for lawmakers and “builds upon and strengthens” ethics oversight. “The O.C.E. has a serious and important role in the House, and this amendment does nothing to impede their work,” he insisted.