Tuesday, January 3, 2017

FIRST ORDER OF BUSINESS: House Republicans Vote To Kill The Office of Congressional Ethics

Less than 24 hours before the House convenes for the 115th Congress Republicans, overriding their top leaders, voted on Monday to “functionally destroy” an independent ethics office set up in 2008 to investigate complaints against members and issues reports to the Ethics Committee.

The vote took place in secret, passing 119 to 74 by anonymous ballot and behind closed doors, so it’s not possible to know which representatives approved of the measure.

So to be clear, as one of their first actions in the new Congress, House Republicans voted to significantly change the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) by removing the entity’s independence. This move would essentially bar it from investigating anonymous complaints.

They even changed the group’s name to the Office of Congressional Complaint Review.

With this move Republicans have voted that they are confidant that they can police themselves without any outsiders mucking around in their business.

The amendment would place the OCE under the “oversight” of the lenient Ethics Committee which has generally slapped members on the wrist for violations of rules, or simply shrugged them off. In addition the OCE would no longer be able to release information to the public, employ anyone “for a position involving communications with the public,” or directly contact law enforcement without approval. It would also be prohibited from investigating anonymous complaints.

Republicans defended the changes as necessary to protect themselves from political witch hunts citing the OCE's investigation of anonymous tips and claim they have been looking for a way to ensure that accusers of wrongdoing must attach their name to a complaint.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the change would “functionally destroy” the office...

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."

Bryson Morgan, who worked as an investigative lawyer at the Office of Congressional Ethics from 2013 until 2015, said...

This is huge. It effectively allows the committee to shut down any independent investigation into member misconduct. Historically, the ethics committee has failed to investigate member misconduct.

Adam Smith of the liberal advocacy group Every Voice said of the move...

This is a shameful move by House Republicans that’ll weaken ethics oversight and make members less accountable for their actions,” 

Daniel Schuman, the policy director of the activist organization Demand Progress, had this to say about the vote...

With today’s action  —  taken behind closed doors and with no opportunity for public debate  —  the House now rolls back the clock to an era of corruption and decay. We will all be the worse for it,” 

Tom Fitton, president of the conservative group Judicial Watch, said via Twitter...

Poor way to begin draining the swamp" and added, “Swamp wins with help of @SpeakerRyan, @RepGoodlatte.

So let's recap: Republicans chose their as their first order of business, on short notice, with no debate, while hardly anyone in the public was aware, on a federal holiday, after working hours, in a secret vote, to fundamentally changing an ethics agency who's whole idea was to remove politics from ethics investigations.

It's called priorities.

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