Update (01/03/17 10:30 a.m.) — After public outcry and criticism from President-elect Donald Trump, House Republicans dropped their plans to gut a watchdog agency that keeps an eye on political ethical wrongdoing, according to USA Today.
Washington, D.C. (NBC News) — President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday criticized House Republicans who moved to weaken the independent ethics office that investigates House lawmakers and staff accused of misconduct.
During a closed-door meeting Monday, by a vote of 119 to 74, House Republicans defied their leadership to adopt an amendment by Rep Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., to place the Office of Congressional Ethics, known as OCE, under the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee.
But just hours before the 115th Congress gavels in Tuesday, Trump said GOP lawmakers would be better off focusing on other domestic policy issues instead of going after the ethics watchdog:
The move effectively gives the ethics oversight and investigative role to the lawmakers themselves and prevents information about investigations from being released to the public.
Goodlatte’s office said the amendment was intended to increase protection of due process rights for House representatives or staffers under investigation and grant them more access to basic “evidentiary standards.”
The amendment bars the office, which would be renamed the Office of Congressional Complaint Review, from considering anonymous complaints and complaints about activity from before 2010.
House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy both spoke out at the closed-door meeting against adopting the amendment, according to one source who was in the meeting.
“The OCE has a serious and important role in the House, and this amendment does nothing to impede their work,” Goodlatte said in a statement defending the move.
The Office of Congressional Ethics was created in 2008 by the then-Democratic majority led by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, after a series of congressional scandals ended in jail time for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Pelosi slammed the new move.
“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,” Pelosi said in a statement. “Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.”
The rules package for the 115th Congress which this amendment was added to will be voted on Tuesday.
Norman Eisen and Richard Painter, chair and vice chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, in a joint statement called the OCE “one of the outstanding ethics accomplishments of the House of Representatives.”
Undermining the office’s independence “is setting [the House] 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.”
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